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DRINK AND BE MERRY?

22-09-2006

As the weekend approachesour bar-room pundit Dave Woodhall takes issue with The Stirrer's light-hearted attitude to getting drunk. He's shtill me best mate, though, honesht (hic!) (click here to see the offending item)

There was an article on The Stirrer the other day, and a lively response on the messageboard to going out and getting drunk because it's ‘a pleasant thing to do'. Even if everyone in the world adopted English as their common language, you'd know just from the editor's pro-drinking postin which country the Stirrer was based, because this is virtually the only place on earth where getting drunk is seen as a good thing, rather than as an embarrassment. It's the only country I know of where people go out with the prime intention of getting drunk.

Britain has a strange attitude towards alcohol. Many regard it as something a bit ‘naughty' - it's something you shouldn't really be doing but it's fun. Others believe alcohol to be the root cause of many of society's problems, while others (notably the Daily Mail) predicted that the new 24 hour licensing laws would result in carnage and then still talk about them having caused an alcoholic Armageddon when in reality nothing much changed.

We do have an alcohol problem, but it hasn't been worsened by letting sensible drinkers stay out an hour or two later. As I see it, the reason why Britain is sinking in a tide of alcohol-fuelled abandon (sometimes I think there's a tabloid job just waiting for me) is two-fold.

First, we make out that being legless is a clever state to be in. There are dozens of words in common usage to describe getting drunk, and none of them are used as an insult. If you're drunk on the Continent, you're an embarrassment to yourself and anyone you might be with. Over here, it's a bit of a laugh. Never mind that you're likely to put yourself or someone else in hospital, it's all good fun. We even have television programmes where groups of young people are encouraged to put their health at risk by drinking heavily. I'd be interested in hearing how the producers of such cultural delights as Booze Britain and Holiday Reps justify their existence.

The other reason why we endure so many alcohol-related problems is that the drinks industry is quite happy to encourage them. Manufacturers develop products targeted at young palates, with alcohol concentrated into smaller measures so that consumers can drink more. When you're 18, four or five pints might make you drunk, it might make you ill, but the volume of liquid consumes acts as a brake. You can't drink much more, so you don't get in too bad a state. So a dozen alcopops is a lot easier to get down your neck.

Pub chains thrive on cheap drinks promotions, offering discounts for bulk buying while at the same time asking customers to ‘Drink Responsibly.' Off-licences sell dangerously alcoholic drinks at ridiculously low prices. A bottle of strong cider, containing a week's worth of the recommended maximum alcohol consumption, sells in my local Post Office for less than three quid.

Interestingly, here's a conspiracy theory. Ten or so years ago, I realised that the generation below mine were less interested in alcohol and were getting into soft drugs, much more than we ever had. This was just before advertising campaigns and drinks aimed at the younger market mushroomed. Coincidence? I don't think so, either.

Don't get me wrong; I like a drink. I had one today, I had one yesterday and I'll probably have one or tomorrow. I enjoy a social drink with friends, or sometimes I'm that sad bloke in the corner of the pub, sitting on my own, reading a paper and watching the world go by. I like pubs, and I probably spend far too much time in them. But I never go out of my way to deliberately get drunk, and I don't understand the mentality of anyone who does.

If we're ever going to solve the problems associated with heavy drinking, the bad behaviour, health risks and damage to our nation's reputation, we have to change the mentality that says drunkenness is acceptable. We have to end this idea that you can't enjoy yourself without getting paralytic. Or smashed, or steamed, pissed, ratted, stoned, bladdered….

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