Binge Britain - Alcohol and the National response, written by husband and wife team Martin and Moira Plant, Professors of Addiction and Alcohol Studies at The University of West of England have attempted to pin down definitions, the historical context causes consequences, and solutions to ‘bingeing’ in Britain.
The first hurdle of defining a binge is tackled, as it varies from a ‘bender ‘, or prolonged drinking spree to sessions of drinking leading to intoxication. In the UK, government guidelines define a binge as ‘twice the UK daily guidelines’ or more, that is 4 to 6 units of 8g for women or 6-8 units or more for men. The authors prefer ‘heavy episodic drinking’ as a definition.
The history of alcohol in society is written in detail, tracing its roots to Neolithic settlements 7000 years ago. The book puts a large onus on William of Orange in the 1690’s and the Distilling Act in favour of Dutch produced Gin for the demise of beer, cider, mead and ale as a food and medicine to the Hogarthian scenes of debauchery and ‘mothers ruin’, particularly in industrialised areas. The history of Temperance movements are traced as is the increasing regulation of opening hours under Lloyd George who claimed in 1915 that ‘drink is doing more damage in this war than all the German submarines put together’. History is carried through to the present day, with Blair describing binge drinking as ‘ the new British Disease’.
Habits and trends are covered in detail with the most startling trend being young women overtaking young men in the percentage drinking five or more drinks at a time three or more times in the last month. Motives for drinking are largely positive - for fun and relaxation primarily. The subject as to why women are drinking more is analysed as is heavy drinking per se.
Heavy drinkers are more likely to be smokers and users of other drugs, 26% of UK adults smoke, a high proportion are from single parent low income families. Or headed by an unemployed adult. The ESPAD study on teenage alcohol use, found UK parents are less likely to know where their teenagersare than most European countries. On average the number of underage drinkers is not increasing, but the amount they are drinking is (10-11 units per week in 2004).
The important issue of the mono culture of giant pubs and clubs in British regenerated towns and cities is held as largely responsible for producing drinking zones of one age group that have fostered and exacerbated anti social behaviour and a binge drinking culture as well as ‘wars between premises with irresponsible promotions and marketing practises to bring customers through the door’.
The book looks at examples of bad practise, models of good practice and concludes with a chapter on proposed future directions. These include discussions as to the effectiveness of alcohol education, health promotion and labelling, the importance of law enforcement (rather than new laws, action at community level. There are recommendations for outlets and thorny subjects such as restricting access to alcohol for young people and taxation are discussed drawing on international example.
The book concludes ‘ It is possible for the UK constituent parts to adopt alcohol policies that are evidence based, rational and effective. The dream of a relaxed peaceful café society may not be Utopian, provided our elected politicians have the wisdom and courage to introduce and sustain effective policies. These could neutralise the power of vested interests, transform the drinking environment and reclaim our town and city streets’
Published by Oxford university Press ISBN 0-19-9299404 www.oup.com