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Last Call: Vertical Integration and England's Drinking Problem
November 20, 2012 6:41 PM   Subscribe

England has a drinking problem. Since 1990, teenage alcohol consumption has doubled. Since World War II, alcohol intake for the population as a whole has doubled, with a third of that increase occurring since just 1995. [...] The United States, although no stranger to alcohol abuse problems, is in comparatively better shape. A third of the country does not drink, and teenage drinking is at a historic low.
How a vertically integrated alcohol industry is to blame, and why the US could find itself in the same position soon.
posted by spiderskull (96 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Not in Pennsylvania. I'm sure that the state store system here will keep us from descending into drunkenness.
posted by punchtothehead at 6:47 PM on November 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


I find it funny that they are showing the beer street side of the Beer Street vs Gin Lane print, while referring to Gin Lane. Did they not decide to print the whole image?
posted by mrzarquon at 6:51 PM on November 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


Even in the middle ages the English had a reputation as Europe's drunkards. Although honestly there are many countries worse than England.
posted by stbalbach at 6:52 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is a great article. It was posted in the InBev thread recently but I thought at the time that it might be worth its own thread.

It's been about 8 years since I last visited the UK - what are the rules on Last Call like now? I remember it being ridiculously early in a lot of places, leading to people grabbing a pitcher or two for themselves and guzzling it, and a pretty nasty scene outside in the streets afterwards.
posted by mannequito at 6:53 PM on November 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


...and why the US could find itself in the same position soon.

Heh. Sorry, nah.
posted by Artw at 7:00 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm all for keeping InBev and CostCo from buying legislation and using their monopolistic powers to control the industry, but I don't think blue laws and state controlled liquor stores are the answer. Many of the post prohibition rules make it harder for small businesses to brew/distill/distribute craft beers and liquors, which are about quality, enjoyable drinks, not getting drunk (or getting drunk nicely).
posted by mrzarquon at 7:03 PM on November 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


Interesting article, but the English situation it describes is pretty much the exact same as Japan's, and, although alcohol consumption is pretty high compared to America, it is, I believe, far lower than that of the UK, and is dropping fast. Vertical integration, etc., may be a factor which contributes to high levels of alcohol use, but I don't think it's an "if A then B" situation.
posted by Bugbread at 7:04 PM on November 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Is there any evidence for the articles premise that alcohol consumption is inversely proportional to price?

I've spent a lot of time in London and New York and it seems that the difference is social rather than economic. Londoners like to get as drunk as possible as quickly as possible before the pub closes. New Yorkers like to keep their wits about them. I guess the low alcohol American beer also helps.
posted by bhnyc at 7:04 PM on November 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


That was a fascinating article. For a substance that plays a significant role in our society, I bet the average person has little to no idea of the Byzantine process involved in getting the brew into their glass.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:04 PM on November 20, 2012


As a Canadian visiting the UK a lot the past few years,I was shocked at how alcohol was completely flowing through UK society. I have never seen so much public drunkedness, openly drinking on trains first thing in the morning, every pub a bar that served food etc - and I did not go out at night, nor was I anywhere near what I think of as "typical overindulgers" of alcohol - students and musicians. In contrast, back home I socialise with musicians, who like to drink, but stop way before anyone I met in the UK would think they were done. For most people I talked to I was the first non-drinker they had met in years. Interestingly enough, NO ONE I talked to had any idea where to get pot or had smoked any in years; in Canada pot is available everywhere and most people I know (not just the musicians; but teachers, police, retired folks) had smoked somewhat recently. Alcohol in Ontario is relatively expensive, almost entirely sold though a government shop (LCBO) that has as a mandate to ensure responsible drinking. Bars and pubs don't close in the afternoon but do have last call at two am; pubs are more restaurants that sell beer rather than the reverse I saw in the UK. It really highlighted the differences in Canadian and UK culture to see how integrated alcohol and being drunk was in UK society.
posted by saucysault at 7:06 PM on November 20, 2012 [17 favorites]


Also, now is the time for someone to Photoshop up a "Alcohol Industry? Go home, you're drunk." image macro.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:07 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure I agree with the article that vertical integration is the cause of excessive drinking. That argument seems to hinge on the idea that the primary limiting factor on drinking is cost, but I don't know that that is true. I think most of the people in America who currently choose not to drink would continue to choose not to drink even if alcohol was cheaper.

It's not that I think this kind of monopolistic control is good or neutral, but I don't think the cause and effect relationship is as the author is describing.
posted by jeoc at 7:07 PM on November 20, 2012 [12 favorites]


What an incomprehensible article. It's a complaint about the consolidation of (mostly) the beer industry disguised as a warning about the United States descending in to an alcoholic fog like what England is in because of it, even though consolidation isn't the thesis of the writer as to why England has more alcohol abuse than the United States.

The alcohol environment is changing in the United States. Part of it is consolidation, but another very big part is renaissance of the craft beer business (the only part really growing right now), and just coming up now are the "boutique" distilleries. Wine and distilled spirits are growing at beer's expense. The large breweries are pushing the higher priced products because they make a lot more money on them, and also they want to carve out a part in the growing piece of the industry. Oh and to make more profit on less volume.
posted by Eekacat at 7:07 PM on November 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


Previously from the man of twists and turns, in the comments on the last MeFi beer thread.
posted by flex at 7:09 PM on November 20, 2012


This is a great article. It was posted in the InBev thread recently but I thought at the time that it might be worth its own thread.

Fiddlesticks! I should add: previously.
posted by spiderskull at 7:09 PM on November 20, 2012


We do not have blue laws because of prohibition. They were around long before that.
posted by interplanetjanet at 7:10 PM on November 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Interesting article for a number of reasons. Not that it's rare to hear a pro-regulation argument based on moral/health grounds... what's counterintuitive is that they argue that industry consolidation (vertically) will cause prices to fall. (which they argue is a bad thing)

While this fails the econ 101 test (monopolies are bad because they raise prices!), it's certainly still plausible that beer in the USA could get a lot cheaper if the inefficiencies in the vertical system are large enough.

Would be nice to see more data on hypothesized connections between beer consumption, beer prices, and industry consolidation. Just citing England as anecdata is fairly weak.
posted by ropeladder at 7:10 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


i think part of the problem with the alcohol industry is the *lack* of any kind of vertical integration. see the documentary "beer wars". in the US there are high walls between producer, distributor, and retailer. the producers hold massive sway over the distributors, of which there are usually just two or three in any given area. it stifles innovation in the micro brew market, the only market seeing growth in the brewing industry.
posted by cupcake1337 at 7:12 PM on November 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


The cultural differences around alcohol consumption are huge, much larger than the cost issue on its own. To an American UK drinking culture is puzzling, including what seems to be almost total toleration of "anti-social behavior" that is a clear police issue here. I'm not saying that the UK way is wrong -- there's a lot that's good about it -- but that it fits into an overall context, and there are reasons beyond economics why "glassing" is an issue there and not here, for example.
posted by Forktine at 7:16 PM on November 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


If the limiting factor is cost (and I don't agree that it is), raise taxes on alcohol.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 7:22 PM on November 20, 2012




Yeah, interesting piece on the industry but I don't think it's correct about the problem with Britain. This is an intrenched cultural problem that I (born in London, spent my whole adult life in the US, just moved back) can't explain and find pretty disgusting and terrifying.

Britain and the US are more different than they are alike really, and the author skims over that pretty lazily.
posted by crabintheocean at 7:27 PM on November 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is why economics doesn't work as social science. The author seems to be (not entirely sure; it's a really muddy article) approaching the issue of alcohol consumption as though the only limiting factor is cost. I bet this guy buys ties based on which ones are most expensive and assumes they're the best, too.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:28 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oct 2012 Economist article: Since 2004 [UK] alcohol consumption has dropped by one-eighth, to 8.3 litres per person per year, according to an official survey. Tax receipts tell a similar story.... In 2003 70% of 16- to 24-year-olds told interviewers they had had a drink in the previous week; by 2010 just 48% had. The proportion of 11- to 15-year-olds who had drunk in the previous week halved over the same period. Heavy drinking sessions are down too.... The result is less public mayhem. Drink-driving convictions dropped by a third between 2007 and 2010 despite a rise in breathalyser tests. Drunkenness convictions have halved since 2000.
posted by Bwithh at 7:30 PM on November 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


I'm sure the different minimum drinking ages are also responsible for the difference between the UK and USA. For one thing, drinking at 18 makes it much easier to buy alcohol (instead of getting it off older people) and enables pretty much all university students to go clubbing where binge drinking is encouraged by the bars with promotions and discount drinks.
posted by absolutelynot at 7:37 PM on November 20, 2012


I read a book by a former Bass executive that talked at length about the damage Margaret Thatcher did to British culture by regulating the beer makers in England. Apparently, prior to the reforms, the industry was really vertically integrated, with breweries owning many if not most of the pubs. So a Bass pub would not have competing beers at all. However, this led to a very regional flavor as a brewery could own a majority of the pubs within a days drive of the plant, insuring itself good distribution. It almost sounds like brewery to pub vertical integration acted as the same sort of buffer that the US 3 tier distribution system does or did. It kept the breweries from getting too big.

Very interesting.

You might want to read my review of the book if you are thinking about buying it. It had some problems.

Ambitious Brew
is another interesting book. It is essentially the history of beer in America.
posted by COD at 7:40 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Britain and the US are more different than they are alike really, and the author skims over that pretty lazily.

Agreed, although I think it's a little easier to see as a Canadian (kind of in the middle of the two) who as visited both multiple times. I actually chuckled a little out loud when I read this line in the article:
Why has the United States, so similar to Great Britain in everything from language to pop culture trends, managed to avoid the huge spike of alcohol abuse that has gripped the UK?
posted by mannequito at 7:41 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


But what about... Ontario at 19 and Quebec at 18? Sure, alcohol is an issue here, but it's not much worse than the US, AFAIK.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 7:41 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


the primary limiting factor on drinking is cost, but I don't know that that is true.

This is not to say agree with everything in the OP, nor that cost and alcohol are inextricably linked, or indeed always the prime metric.

However, from my involvement in the sector in Australia, there is absolutely a wealth of evidence and research here that cost is indeed the primary limiting factor with regards to binge-drinking.

Now, alcohol obvs has a host of concomitant factors eg for street violence availability is a huge factor too (if you can't buy that six pack to drink at the bus stop at 2am, you're less likely to get drunk at the bus stop at 2am and beat the crap out of someone etc). But in terms of social harms, price is the biggest factor in binge drinking, esp in the most problematic demographics in Australia (teens, indigenous, homeless).

Over here, at least, much of the problems stems from our archaic alcohol tax (which is not volumetric, i.e is not based on how much alcohol something contains, but is primarily based on what type of drink it is, e.g beer vs wine vs spirits). The result is that you can buy 4 litre cartons of wine or port god help you in some communities for less than the price of bottled water.

Tl;dr In an Australian context, and probably more broadly than people realise, price is the biggest limiting factor on alcohol consumption, especially binge drinking.

PS People talking about those that won't drink or who drink little no matter what the cost - from a public health perspective, no one cares about them. These are not the people hurting others and themselves with alcohol abuse and any alcohol policy is not and never will be targeted at them. Thus, arguments about the effect of Policy X on drinking should always be taken in the context that is the effect of Policy X on problem drinking, rather than the whole population. Obviously, large numbers of the population are problem drinkers in one way or another, but still, it's an important distinction.
posted by smoke at 7:46 PM on November 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


Not in Pennsylvania. I'm sure that the state store system here will keep us from descending into drunkenness.

Not working on me so far!

I'm not a big fan of trying to tax the price up on the cheap stuff. Basic cheap booze is for more than alcoholics and binge drinkers, it's also for people who can't afford the good stuff but still drink in moderation.

I love the hell out of craft beer, but but it can put a big dent in a budget already.
posted by Drinky Die at 8:09 PM on November 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Liability seems to be a big limiting factor keeping Americans from getting blotto in pubs. Most people in the US have to drive home from the bar and if they wreck on the way, in a lot of states the owner of the bar can get in trouble. They also aren't supposed to serve you if you are visibly intoxicated.
posted by octothorpe at 8:12 PM on November 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


> The result is that you can buy 4 litre cartons of wine or port god help you in some communities for less than the price of bottled water.

I believe this is the reason for popularity of ciders in the UK, they aren't "beer" so aren't in the same tax area. I remember in Northern Ireland I was able to get a 3L bottle of 'white lightning' cider for two pounds, but beer cost more. Also that beers under 3.5% were taxed less than other beers, but ciders could be stronger and not have any extra tax.

It sounds like the problem isn't America has to worry about removing our three tiered distribution system, it's that if the UK is going to tax by % of alcohol, it should do so evenly.

Of course, alcoholism and substance abuse doesn't go away by making things more difficult or expensive for people to get, it just makes someone work harder at getting it.
posted by mrzarquon at 8:13 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, while price has some influence, and the current duopoly of brewers should be hit with some anti-trust litigation (lest we get too drunk to fail), the reach of public intox laws and overall culture has a lot to do with the lower levels of "problem drinking" too.
posted by klangklangston at 8:32 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


octothorpe writes "Most people in the US have to drive home from the bar"

This. The lack of public transit and low densities would seem to have a moderating effect on consumption (per capita I mean, obviously there are lots of people living where this isn't a problem). Driving while impaired here has become much less socially acceptable.

Also what is the availability of weed like in the UK? Weed seems to have displaced at least some of the alcohol consumption here compared to 20 years ago.
posted by Mitheral at 8:34 PM on November 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


keeping InBev and CostCo from buying legislation and using their monopolistic powers to control the industry

Here in Washington, it's common knowledge that Costco paid for Initiative 1183, which did away with our hilariously old-fashioned system of state-run liquor stores. But so what? It's not like Costco got to take over the state monopoly: they're just one retail option among many, and while they're undoubtedly making a lot of money on liquor sales, the state still gets its cut in the form of taxes, and there are more options now and not fewer. It's difficult to imagine how any harm was done to anyone except the people who used to work for the state liquor stores.
posted by Mars Saxman at 8:36 PM on November 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Alcohol consumption in England is strongly cultural. There's just an acceptability and desirability for many about getting very drunk. Certain things could be done to lessen that, but unless culture is tackled it will never go away. I think one of the problems is that neither the police nor licensing authorities do enough to stem to spill out from heavy drinking. Many towns and cities surrender their town centres to heavy drinking on Friday and Saturday nights, which makes others want to keep away. If they got a handle on this, a bigger non-heavy drinking nighttime population would come back and there would be greater self-policing.

The thought that vertical integration is the problem just seems to miss by a mile.
posted by Jehan at 8:52 PM on November 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


> It's difficult to imagine how any harm was done to anyone except the people who used to work for the state liquor stores.

Reports are from my friends following cocktail / liquor prices in the region that they are paying more now for liquor than they were beforehand. Yes, selection has improved and things like St Germain are easy to be had, but since all the same taxes have to be paid as before, you end up not saving any more (and then you have to pay the retail stores mark up as well). Really the problem is it doesn't really open up the market for a small liquor store (minimum square footage requirement), just lets giant grocery stores sell a bunch of booze with a nice mark up, but possibly not the best selection. The best I could say for my friends in Washington was hope you get a BevMo soon (and one just opened).

Washington's system needed to be fixed, but 1183 was pretty much stacking the deck specifically for CostCo (who wrote the legislation). As someone who lived in Washington and now lives in Oregon, I've seen the OLCC get their act together and start trying to not be so idiotic in how they manage their stores, hoping to earn more good will amongst their patrons to help prevent such a bill form gaining traction here.
posted by mrzarquon at 8:56 PM on November 20, 2012


As a Canadian visiting the UK a lot the past few years,I was shocked at how alcohol was completely flowing through UK society. I have never seen so much public drunkedness, openly drinking on trains first thing in the morning, every pub a bar that served food etc - and I did not go out at night, nor was I anywhere near what I think of as "typical overindulgers" of alcohol - students and musicians. In contrast, back home I socialise with musicians, who like to drink, but stop way before anyone I met in the UK would think they were done. For most people I talked to I was the first non-drinker they had met in years. Interestingly enough, NO ONE I talked to had any idea where to get pot or had smoked any in years; in Canada pot is available everywhere and most people I know (not just the musicians; but teachers, police, retired folks) had smoked somewhat recently. Alcohol in Ontario is relatively expensive, almost entirely sold though a government shop (LCBO) that has as a mandate to ensure responsible drinking. Bars and pubs don't close in the afternoon but do have last call at two am; pubs are more restaurants that sell beer rather than the reverse I saw in the UK. It really highlighted the differences in Canadian and UK culture to see how integrated alcohol and being drunk was in UK society.

As a Irishman who lived in the London for years recently moved to Toronto, I've had an exact mirror image of this experience hitting up dive bars and after hours clubs in a desperate search for proper drunken revelry only to be offered weed which just makes me fall asleep (and is only smoked by the feral criminal underclass and George Michael in London).

But its all context. I was once in Nottingham, a fairly grim English market town, on Friday night and even to a hardened drinker it was mostly terrifying, as is most anything north of Watford. Basically they're drinking to forget that they live in terrible, terrible places. This contrasts to say Soho in London which is even boozier but very, very pleasant.
posted by Damienmce at 8:59 PM on November 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


At any decent grocery, Kirin of Japan sits beside Boddingtons of Ireland...

Ah yes, Boddingtons. The cream of Manchester, Ireland.
posted by elsietheeel at 9:04 PM on November 20, 2012 [15 favorites]


I guess the low alcohol American beer also helps.

As opposed to the high-alcohol beer popular elsewhere?

Following beers listed by ABV

Top 5 USA:
Bud Light: 4.2%
Coors Light: 4.2%
Budweiser: 5%
Miller Lite: 4.2%
Natural Light: 4.2%

Top selling beers in the UK:
Stella Artois: 5.2%
Carling: 4%
Foster's (UK version): 4%
Grolsch: 5%
Carlsberg: 4.6%

Australia's Top 3:
XXXX Gold: 3.5%
Victoria Bitter: 4.6%
Carlton Draught: 4.6%

Germany's Top 5:
Oettinger Pils: 4.6%
Krombacher Pils: 4.8%
Bitburger: 4.8%
Warsteiner: 4.8%
Beck's: 4.8%
posted by Mister Fabulous at 9:23 PM on November 20, 2012 [11 favorites]


Alcohol consumption in England is strongly cultural. There's just an acceptability and desirability for many about getting very drunk. Certain things could be done to lessen that, but unless culture is tackled it will never go away.

How does this explain the sharp increase by teens in the past twenty years?
posted by wilful at 9:33 PM on November 20, 2012


Top 5 Japan:

Asahi Superdry: 5%
Kirin Nodogoshi Nama: 5%
Kirin Ichiban Shibori: 5%
Suntory Kinmugi: 5%
Kirin Tanrei Nama: 5.5%
posted by Bugbread at 9:37 PM on November 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Having lived in the UK and the US I don't think the average consumption rates tell the whole story. People I knew in the two different countries (20s to early 30s at the time) probably drank the same amount on average. The difference was that the British people did it all at once. My friends there won't drink for a week or two then they'll go out and drink themselves absolutely stupid, under the table, puking drunk in a few hours. Americans tend to have a few beers on a far more regular basis but rarely get very drunk once they're over the age of 25 or so. It's not nearly as socially acceptable in the US to be drunk, especially around co-workers or basically anyone but close friends at private parties. Also there is a lot more cocaine in the UK and a lot more weed in the US as noted above.

I have to argue with the US beers are weaker trope while I'm here. Most non-crap beers in the US are insanely strong, like 7+% alcohol. Many of my Euro but not UK (Irish, Italian and French) friends and family have told me they do not drink the fancier American beers for that very reason. Guinness, for example, is about 4% alcohol in Ireland and is 7+% in the version that is exported to the US. Actually, as we age a lot of my friends in the US have gone back to drinking cheap beers at things like BBQs or horseshoe tournaments precisely because they are so low alcohol. It's more conducive to socializing.
posted by fshgrl at 9:38 PM on November 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


I have to argue with the US beers are weaker trope while I'm here. Most non-crap beers in the US are insanely strong, like 7+% alcohol.

They're also far less popular than the 'crap' mass market beers. The top 20 selling beers all seem to mostly be the mass market stuff which, based on Mister Fabulous' numbers above, are weaker.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:46 PM on November 20, 2012


Without comment - Pete Brown on England's Drinking "Problem"
posted by drewbage1847 at 10:28 PM on November 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I was sad to see Keith Humphreys of The Reality Based Community make the argument for minimum pricing of alcohol to curb binge drinking. Wow dude, way to validate the nanny-state "we know what's best for you, citizen" stereotype of liberals.
posted by MattMangels at 10:56 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


England has a drinking problem. Since 1990, teenage alcohol consumption has doubled. Since World War II, alcohol intake for the population as a whole has doubled, with a third of that increase occurring since just 1995.

Course, looked at over the long run alcohol consumption in the UK is just starting to reach what it was before WWI and the restictions imposed by Lloyd George to make sure the munition workers did their jobs sober.

Starting with WWII is of course also a bit of a cheat, what with rationing and all keeping alcohol consumption artificially low at the time.

As a Canadian visiting the UK a lot the past few years,I was shocked at how alcohol was completely flowing through UK society. I have never seen so much public drunkedness, openly drinking on trains first thing in the morning, every pub a bar that served food etc

One of those things is not like the others... What's wrong with drinking on trains, or pubs that serve food? Granted, often the only thing you can buy on the train or at the station is crap lager, but if you come prepare it can be quite nice to sit and watch the landscape roll by as you enjoy a pint or two. And pub food can sometimes be awful, but it's great to be able to eat in a slightly more convivial atmos than most restaurants can manage, then hang around for a bit.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:58 PM on November 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Coincidently, been a bit amused/annoyed at a poster in the local bus this morning showing a pint of beer and the question "what do you think of seeing this", followed by three answers:

a) Great, pour me another

b) Actually, I'd rather have wine

c) No, I don't actually drink during the week

What the fecking feck is wrong with drinking during the week? It's that sort of stupid demonising & fetishing of alcohol of something to be only drunk on special occassions, something you can't possible be drinking at any other time that does more harm than just having the odd pint at lunchtime or whatever.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:06 PM on November 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


"How does this explain the sharp increase by teens in the past twenty years?"

But yet, it's decreased in the last eight.
posted by klangklangston at 11:09 PM on November 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's a shame the article doesn't distinguish between 'England' and 'the UK', since alcohol consumption and policy are different across the different UK countries. Here in Scotland we have a higher rate of alcohol consumption than the rest of the UK (disproportionately in poorer areas, although with some interesting figures suggesting that's not just about location); those figures have gone down a little over the past couple of years, but it's still too early to see how much Scotland's new minimum alcohol pricing legislation of 50p a unit will affect it further (presuming the alcohol industry doesn't get it overturned).
posted by Catseye at 11:54 PM on November 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


The idea that alcohol price is the driver of alcohol consumption is ridiculous. Sweden, Norway, and Finland have astronomical alcohol prices (even considering purchasing power parity), and have much more alcohol consumption and abuse than, say, Germany, where liquor is very cheap. Also, British alcohol, not so cheap. American alcohol? Depending on the state, very cheap. I'm against vertical integration, but this article started with some pretty weak premises.
posted by molecicco at 2:00 AM on November 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


The UK doesn't have a drinking problem, it has a binge drinking problem. Its average alcohol consumption isn't particularly high (indeed, it's low compared to other European countries), the problem is that it tends to drink almost all of it on Fridays and Saturdays, between 9 and 11 pm. Hence the public drunkenness.

In France for instance, people don't don't frown upon drinking, but as you'll find out if you have a few too many in a French party, being drunk is instant social death. This is most definitely not the case in the UK, where public drunkenness isn't just accepted, but even expected in some social settings (for example, the annual sozzled Christmas office party).

And guess which other countries share this schizophrenic attitude to alcohol? Scandinavia, where alcohol is sold through state-owned stores, and heavily taxed...
posted by Skeptic at 2:02 AM on November 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


molecicco: The idea that alcohol price is the driver of alcohol consumption is ridiculous
From what I've read, it seems that the idea that a minimum per-unit price for alcohol would curb consumption by the heaviest drinkers is generally accepted by researchers in this field.

Also, British alcohol, not so cheap
Cheap and nasty alcohol can be very cheap. One study of alcohol consumption by patients with serious alcohol problems in Scotland found that "The mean price paid per unit was £0.43 (lowest £0.09/unit) (£1 = 1.6 US$ or 1.2€), which is below the mean unit price, £0.71 paid in Scotland in 2008. Of units consumed, 70.3% were sold at or below £0.40/unit (mid-range of price models proposed for minimum pricing legislation by the Scottish Government), and 83% at or below £0.50/unit proposed by the Chief Medical Officer of England. The lower the price paid per unit, the more units a patient consumed. . . Cheapness was quoted commonly as a reason for beverage choice; ciders, especially 'white' cider, and vodka were, at off-sales, cheapest per unit."
posted by James Scott-Brown at 2:43 AM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I recently came across the term anhedonia, which perfectly fits the UK's drinking culture; the consumption of large amounts of booze to mark all social events. Still, if all you've got is pound shops and pubs to distract you from your workplace, then getting shitfaced seems like an adequate response.

This is the real legacy of Thatcher; not the ease of monopolistic practices, but the reduction of society to a simple money-making machine. Where are the clubs and drama groups that would provide social structure to drinking? The Fabian-style socialists that run local societies for the greater good? Mostly, gone.
posted by The River Ivel at 3:03 AM on November 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


What's wrong with drinking on trains, or pubs that serve food

There is nothing wrong with drinking on trains, I was simply surprised to see being publicly extremely drunk, rowdy, and continuing to drink before noon on a train was socially acceptable. I think it was that belligerent behaviour, from drunks, is not as commonly seen in Canada - even from the 19 year olds that are at the legal drinking age. It contrasted sharply with my Canadian experience.

In Canada pubs are places you go to have a lovely meal with a drink to wash it down; in the UK it seemed the pubs were much more loud places to get drunk that happened to also serve food as an auxillery activity.

Almost everyone I know drinks (and I have a weirdly wide demographic of friends) and when we get together alcohol is often involved. But they don't get drunk. In the UK I was mostly with people over a wide variety of classes in their thirties and forties and EVERY night a large portion of them would be drunk to the point I would worry about alcohol poisoning. It was just such a stark contrast and not what I was expecting since I know so many UK ex-pats (who seems to drink more than other immigrant groups but have clearly slowed down since leaving the UK). I thought French and Saunders was a caricature, but it seems they actually weren't that uncommon.
posted by saucysault at 3:04 AM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Terrible article though it is in many ways, it is always interesting to see our country through other eyes. The first paragraphs make it sound like Britons like nothing better than getting drunk and smashing bottles on each others faces, like the Monty Python fish slapping dance with ultraviolence. That got me thinking.
The last time I saw anyone with broken beer bottle glass on their face was Jim Rose, in Jim Rose's Circus Sideshow. It was 1990 and he was American. So much for anecdata! Let's look at the facts claim.

"Busting a bottle across someone’s face in a bar is a bona fide cultural phenomenon—so notorious that it has its own slang term, “glassing,” and so common that at one point the Manchester police called for bottles and beer mugs to be replaced with more shatter-resistant material"

Beer bottles are pretty tough little things, even in the US where the glass is relatively thin and the bottles larger (355ml vs 330ml or 275ml in the UK) smashing a bottle on a face seems like a bit of a challenge. You might be able to get it to break if you brought it down on top of the skull, but the face wouldn't offer enough resistance, I would have thought (thinks back to horrific scene in Pan's Labyrinth *shudders*). Indeed, according to the Wikipedia page on beer bottles ..'Pathologists determined in 2009 that beer bottles are strong enough to crack human skulls, which requires an impact energy of between 14 and 70 joules, depending on the location'.

So, it is unlikely that one might be able to bust a bottle across someone's face. Maybe they meant glasses, it would seem more likely as the term used is 'glassing'. So searching the internet with Google I find the top result is another one from Pete Brown (Beer writer of the Year 2009) where he analyses the figures for glassing reported by the press. Strangely the reported figure of 87,000 violent attacks in or around pubs involving glassware per year does not tally with the Home Office figures. It would appear that this number is near to the total number of assaults anywhere involving a glass or a bottle, not just in pubs.
"Home Office data shows that 2% of all pub-goers are involved in any kind of assault each year. 43% of these assaults are described as 'grabbing or pushing'. Only 16% of assaults result in cuts of any kind. Around two thirds of victims in alcohol-related assaults describe themselves as being affected 'not at all' or 'just a little', with around 15% affected 'quite a lot' and 15% 'very much'. Only 4-10% involve glasses or bottles"

Excessive drinking and violence are linked, there are problems with both in the UK, however clouding the issues with hyperbole and sensationalist journalism does not help anyone.

Binge drinking is more a symptom than a primary cause of societal malaise.

I do have a friend who was glassed and has scars on his face and hand as a result. He was in a car when someone reached in and glassed him with a broken bottle. It was over a girl. I am aware it does happen, and not just to ultraviolent lager louts.
posted by asok at 3:05 AM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


The idea that alcohol price is the driver of alcohol consumption is ridiculous.

I admire your confidence in proclaiming this, but if you were actually qualified to hold an opinion either way, you would probably be aware of all the research linking price to alcohol consumption, especially binge drinking.

I can't resist quoting from this great report, Binge Drinking and Europe - very relevant to this thread - written by the Institute of Alcohol studies. If people are interested in, you know, actual facts instead of how they feel about alcohol, I highly recommend. Forgive the length, I think it's important to nip the arrant nonsense people are pedalling around the price of alcohol and drinking patterns in the bud, and demonstrate quite how soundly those assertions are rebutted by decades of research. Anyway, from page 59 (emph mine):
The impact of price changes on alcohol consumption and the harm done by alcohol has been more extensively investigated than any other potential alcohol policy measure (Ornstein 1980; Ornstein and Levy 1983; Godfrey 1988; Leung and Phelps 1991; Österberg 1995; USDHHS 1997; Österberg 2001). Econo-metric studies are available at least from the following European countries: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, the Nether-lands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom (Ahtola et al. 1986; Huitfeldt and Jorner 1972; Lau 1975; Ornstein 1980; Ornstein and Levy 1983; Olsson 1991; Edwards et al. 1994; Österberg 1995; 2000).

The price-elasticities for alcoholic beverages estimated in different studies have shown that when other factors remain unchanged, an increase in price has generally led to a decrease in alcohol-related harm, and that a decrease in price has usually led to an increase in alcohol- related harm, with the size of the elasticities sometimes dependent on the relative presence or absence of other alcohol policy measures (Farrell et al. 2003; Trolldal and Ponicki 2005).

Studies have found that increases in the price of alcohol reduce the alcohol consumption of young people, with a greater impact on more frequent and heavier drinkers than on less frequent and lighter drinkers (Grossman et al. 1987; Coate and Grossman 1988; Laixuthai and Chaloupka 1993; Chaloupka and Wechsler 1996; Cook and Moore 2002).

Beyond levels of drinking, price has also been found to influence drinking to intoxication. One large survey in the US found that a 10% increase in price would decrease the number of intoxication episodes per month by 8% (defined as consuming 5+ drinks on one occasion; Sloan et al. 1995). The impact of alcohol taxes differs with age, with the impact of increasing age in youth possibly swamping the impact of price (Gius 2005).

A wide range of studies have found that increasing the price of alcohol and beer reduces road traffic accidents and fatalities particularly for younger drivers (Saffer and Grossman 1987a,b; Kenkel 1993; Ruhm 1996; Dee 1999; Mast et al. 1999; Dee and Evans 2001; Chaloupka et al. 2002; Evans et al. 1991; Chaloupka et al. 1993; Sloan et al. 1994a; Mullahy and Sindelar 1994a).

Increases in alcohol prices reduce intentional and unintentional injuries (Sloan et al. 1994; Grossman and Markowitz 1999). Higher beer prices have been shown to lead to reductions in rapes and robberies (Cook and Moore 1993), homicides (Sloan et al. 1994) crime (Saffer 2001), violence at universities (Grossman and Markowitz 2001), and violence-related injuries (Matthews et al. 2005).

Further, special taxes for spirit based sweet pre-mixed drinks lead to reductions in sales and consumption of the specific drinks.

There has been a considerable trend towards popular drinking venues offering promotional deals and ‘happy hours’ (temporary price-cuts) on products regularly consumed by young drinkers (see Hastings et al. 2005). Examples include: a never ending vodka glass (purchase one glass of vodka and refill it as often as you like); buy-one-drink and get-one-free happy hours, and cheap deals on popular drinks on particular nights of the week. Alcohol price promotions are associated with increased binge drinking (Kuo et al. 2003).

It's interesting I've noticed both locally here in Australia and internationally on sites like this how defensive people get regarding alcohol - projecting their drinking patterns on to everyone, and likewise regarding efforts to curb problem drinking as affronts to their liberty. Quite interesting, the difference in discourse to other drugs - both legal and illegal - is striking.
posted by smoke at 3:15 AM on November 21, 2012 [13 favorites]


Alcohol price is a factor, but here in Ireland it just means a lot of people buy it in Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK and has ultra-cheap booze.

Another part of the problem is that here in Ireland and also in the UK we just have a long, long tradition of it being socially acceptable, if not expected, to get utterly lashed at the weekend from your mid teens.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 3:32 AM on November 21, 2012


As a resident of Norway, where a pint of beer in a pub costs at least $10, I laugh at the suggestion that high prices somehow limit people's alcohol consumption.
posted by ymgve at 3:49 AM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


On the pricing question: Here's the section on the effect of alcohol pricing on consumption from a 2009-2010 UK parliamentary report on the health effects of alcohol.

Based on what is a skim reading (I previously knew about this information from a talk by David Nutt and looked up the reference in his book "Drugs without the hot air". I've not actually read the full study), the main conclusion being that if you don't drink too much then adjusting the price doesn't affect your drinking habits much, but if you do drink a lot then it does reduce your intake. So in other words, the people who are most likely to suffer the negative effects of drinking are also the ones most benefited by increasing the price.
posted by DRMacIver at 3:54 AM on November 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also apparently France used regulation and minimum pricing to good effect back in the 70s to curb a serious cultural drinking problem. I don't have a citation for this though, so I may have this wrong.
posted by DRMacIver at 4:04 AM on November 21, 2012


Ah, I've just seen smoke's post (oops), which is way more comprehensive than mine. Oh well, multiple reports can't hurt.
posted by DRMacIver at 4:09 AM on November 21, 2012


I don't know who you were hanging out with, saucysalt, but I think you may have been with some statistical outliers. What you are describing does not tally with my experience with a similar cohort.
Drinking on trains before lunchtime is unusual in my experience. I can't think of any time I have encountered that, but I have seen drinking on trains and have also done it myself. It's one of the great things about taking a train rather than driving. Sitting around a table with friends having a convivial time and a beer or two is a great luxury. The beer is optional, but it's a nice touch. Obviously we bring our own real ales /beer snob. I have also seen lone men on a train or a bus going through a six pack of Special Brew. They are alcoholics afaik.

As regards increasing price to reduce excessive drinking, violence &c., I can see how there may be a correlation. I have long believed that a large number of crimes, not just violent ones, are alcohol related. There are a couple of problems with this in the UK. One is that it encourages a black market in alcohol imported from Europe and counterfeit drinks, which already exists and makes some people a lot of money at the present prices. Another is that there needs to be a parallel move to engage people more in the community, to give options to drinking for people, activities, sports, community spaces for all ages and hope. As noted above a society where consumption of goods is regarded as the main indicator of happiness is a soulless place to live. People deserve better.
posted by asok at 4:13 AM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


So when you're talking about cheap beer in pubs, how cheap are we talking? It's not hard to find dive/student bars around here that serve $2.00 to 2.50 beers which would translate to about 1.25 to 1.50 pounds. Are bottles of of beer in the UK that much cheaper?
posted by octothorpe at 4:24 AM on November 21, 2012


For one thing, drinking at 18 makes it much easier to buy alcohol (instead of getting it off older people)

Not so much for underage drinkers, though. ID has really tightened up recently - when I was 15 in 1997, we would hang out in pubs all the time to meet boys even if we weren't drinking, because the pub was known as the place where people our age gathered. (This probably sounds like rampant alcohol abuse to US readers - it's actually pretty normal to get drunk for the first time at 15/16 here.) When i was a student it was very easy to spot people who hadn't got getting drunk out of their system before leaving home - I was given 'wine' at the dinner table and where I grew up everyone drank either horrid lager or horrid alcopops so it took me a few years to find a drink that made drinking actually pleasurable - because they were the ones getting ostentatiously drunk and boasting about it.

In the past decade, pubs and shops have become really vigilant about IDing anyone that looks under 21, or even 25. I have no driving license and don't carry my passport round as a matter of course, and it's a pain. The supermarket that cheerfully sold me a huge bottle of cheap cider at 15 refused to sell me a bottle of mulled wine when I was 29. And in Scotland, multibuy promotions which make buying a larger quantity of alcohol cheaper are now illegal.


And guess which other countries share this schizophrenic attitude to alcohol?

If your attitude to alcohol is that it's making you hear voices then you should probably cut back.
posted by mippy at 4:42 AM on November 21, 2012


Also, pubs are closing at a phenomenal rate in the UK, because alcohol is cheaper in supermarkets and because some are in areas that now have a high Muslim population so can't keep the trade, so many are now drinking at home. Probably particularly the growing Polish community in London who can buy their local brands in the supermarkets here but not in an average bar. I thought by 'vertical integration' this would talk about 'vertical wet-led drinking establishments' ie pubs that are designed to stand around in while drinking alcopops and listenign to loud music.

'Glassing' is a thing but more of a feature of the kind of pubs where you can't enter until they've checked your bag beforehand for alcohol or knives, and you shouldn;t be going in those pubs anyway. As young women we were more concerned about our drinks being spiked than being around or involved in fights. The 'lager lout' was a very 80s/90s phrase.
posted by mippy at 4:52 AM on November 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


* Some modern binge drinking is fuelled by purchasing discount loss-leader alcohol from supermarkets and drinking that before going out to save money. You go out already drunk.

* One of the cheapest ways to drink is cider. This has a strong cultural lobby in the UK as an national English drink so there is political pressure not to tax it too heavily. This means that there is always likely to be a very cheap per-unit alcoholic drink.

* The decline of the pub may mean more drinking at home, with cheap supermarket alcohol.

* The reduction in drunkenness amongst the young since 2003/2004 may be because of the poor economic climate. Young people with jobs can afford to go out and drink.

Lots of factors.
posted by alasdair at 5:24 AM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


In Canada pubs are places you go to have a lovely meal with a drink to wash it down; in the UK it seemed the pubs were much more loud places to get drunk that happened to also serve food as an auxillery activity.

FWIW, I've had almost exactly the opposite impression of pubs in Canada vs those in the UK (as a USian who lived in Toronto for several years and has now moved to the UK). One of the first things that struck me here (SW England) is how pleasant and family-friendly many of the local pubs are, how integrated they are into everyday life, and how "un bar-like" most of them seemed. I guess this must depend rather a lot on where specifically you're talking about (in both Canada and the UK). In Toronto, I didn't have a single hangout that was what I would call a really great pub in the sense you describe -- I had lots of places where I liked to have a drink, and lots of places where I liked to eat, but not a ton of places that did both reasonably well. (They exist, of course, I'm just saying they weren't a big part of my social circle's everyday life.) Here, there are several places within walking distance where the food is as big an attraction as the drinks, but which are indisputably pubs.

I agree with what you and others have said about the relative acceptance of binge drinking in the UK, though. Friday and Saturday nights here are insane, drunk people everywhere -- kinda like some US college towns, only with much broader demographics (i.e., plenty of people over 30 getting loaded, too).
posted by chalkbored at 5:24 AM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


nthing what mippy says here. Some of the booze consumed of a night will come from supermarkets and preloading (pregaming is the US term here). Supermarkets actually sell booze as loss leaders, and this is of concern to both pub-trade and health officials.

If you're not fussy, then you can buy alcoholic drinks for less than 25p per unit. A unit equates to about 10ml of alcohol, so it's equivalent to a 1/2 litre can of 5% lager for about 62p. I don't know how much booze is in the US, but suspect it's more than this.

There are moves in the UK to enforce a minimum price per unit of 40p, and all actual evidence (i.e. not relying on the fact that some people still get drunk at £10.00 a pint) suggests that it will make huge differences to the amount of excessive drinking. This may also push people back to the pubs who are having a terrible time of it at the moment.

I have a bit of a problem with minimum unit pricing in that as a policy it'll be felt more by the people at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. It seems unfair that mr and mrs middle class continue to get sloshed on mid-range sauvignon blanc whilst these depressents are denied to those that arguably need them more.

Of course - I also suspect that alcohol is used to keep the lower classes subdued and lower class, so a minimum price per unit may actually do something for social mobility.

On glassings: Given that the last glassing I saw was outside a pretty nice wetherspoons, I'd not characterise it as being something that you only get in certain pubs.
posted by zoo at 5:28 AM on November 21, 2012


I don't know what you guys are fretting about. I just read an awesome article about how U.S. alcohol prices are coming down!
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 5:29 AM on November 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you're not fussy, then you can buy alcoholic drinks for less than 25p per unit. A unit equates to about 10ml of alcohol, so it's equivalent to a 1/2 litre can of 5% lager for about 62p. I don't know how much booze is in the US, but suspect it's more than this.

Around here if you buy it by the case, you can get crappy beer around here for less than $10 per 24 cans so about $0.40 each. But you can't get that price for less than a case, 6-packs are a lot more expensive and singles even more so.
posted by octothorpe at 6:08 AM on November 21, 2012


He was in a car when someone reached in and glassed him with a broken bottle. It was over a girl.

See? Girls are the problem. Tax the girls!
posted by goethean at 6:10 AM on November 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Or at least restrict their usage and proliferation
posted by Catfry at 6:14 AM on November 21, 2012


And guess which other countries share this schizophrenic attitude to alcohol?

If your attitude to alcohol is that it's making you hear voices then you should probably cut back.


When I used "schizophrenic" in that sense I knew that I'd get some snark...

Anyway, what you and others point out is true: binge drinking is driven less by pubs than by cheap supermarket and convenience store booze. This is particularly visible in my home country, Spain, where binge drinking is quite a new phenomenon and is directly identified with the "botellon", in which (very) young people meet in public spaces with their own booze, because they can't afford the drinks in bars (and often are too young to be admitted into them, anyway).
posted by Skeptic at 7:01 AM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I skimmed the original article, the comments about Britain are, for the most part, misinformed, xenophobic and idiotic.

Heffernan repeatedly makes the puritanical mistake of equating alcohol consumption with alcoholism, i.e. the self-righteous belief that anyone who drinks more than I do is an alcoholic. Britain's problem is not alcoholism (unlike say, Russia), it is binge drinking. A lot of these binge drinkers may become alcoholics but by that point they also become largely invisible, the visible problem is binge drinking.

The thesis of the article is mistaken and does not reflect the situation in modern Britain (if it ever did). Binge drinking has nothing to do with vertical integration, which has in any case lessened dramatically. The present situation is not vertically integrated, it consists of a small number of manufacturers, a number of powerful retailers like supermarkets and a number of pub ownership companies. There is no common ownership and there is no vertical integration.

The likely causes of British binge drinking include, but are not restricted to: cheap booze in supermarkets, cultural habits (pubs, unlike European bars were not places you went to eat), "last orders" and the belief that it is somehow manly to escape the wretched boredom of your life by getting trashed at weekends.
posted by epo at 7:37 AM on November 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I recently came across the term anhedonia, which perfectly fits the UK's drinking culture; the consumption of large amounts of booze to mark all social events. Still, if all you've got is pound shops and pubs to distract you from your workplace, then getting shitfaced seems like an adequate response.

This is the real legacy of Thatcher; not the ease of monopolistic practices, but the reduction of society to a simple money-making machine. Where are the clubs and drama groups that would provide social structure to drinking? The Fabian-style socialists that run local societies for the greater good? Mostly, gone.
I think this is a good point. Where I live is rather small, and has a fair deal of non-pub community. It's not so common to hear or see problem drinking, when likened to a bigger town.
posted by Jehan at 7:50 AM on November 21, 2012


Also, pubs are closing at a phenomenal rate in the UK, because alcohol is cheaper in supermarkets

That doesn't make sense to me. Alcohol has always been cheaper if you buy it in a bottle and pour it yourself at home. People go to pubs and bars, and pay more for it, because of other reasons -- socializing, hoping to get laid, playing darts/pool/billiards, and/or the chance of a good fight. I can see an economic downturn leading to bars closing as people cut back on going out, but it won't be cheap grocery store booze that causes it.
posted by Forktine at 7:50 AM on November 21, 2012


I can't resist quoting from this great report, Binge Drinking and Europe - very relevant to this thread - written by the Institute of Alcohol studies.

The problem is that beer is much cheaper in America than in England (by about 10-15% for what I drink) providing a substantial counter example. I know this having lived in the UK for 7 years and now enjoying the greater availability and affordability of fine beer in Chicago.

England is weird about alcohol. Otherwise ordinary people routinely drink like teenagers. You really have to see it to understand it and get an idea how common public drunkenness is in England.

I think there is a strong cultural component to this and it is my guess is that it comes from the pressures of such a reserved and inhibited culture where the excuse of intoxication is required to make social overtures that are otherwise impossibly intrusive.
posted by srboisvert at 7:51 AM on November 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


In 1986 on Dec. 27 or 28, I took a morning train from London to York. The man sitting across from me drank several tall cans of lager during the trip. I was about 13 at the time, sitting among my parents & three siblings -- and the gentleman showed no discomposure about drinking so early in the day.

He was friendly and all, but he was also drunk when we got there. *shrug* So what's new?

(And when I lived in a uni hall in Reading in 1992, we could go out to a pub or club and get lit -- but it was cheaper and more common to have a pint in the jr. common room downstairs.)
posted by wenestvedt at 7:52 AM on November 21, 2012


I think there is a strong cultural component to this and it is my guess is that it comes from the pressures of such a reserved and inhibited culture where the excuse of intoxication is required to make social overtures that are otherwise impossibly intrusive. This is complete bollocks, have you been drinking?
posted by epo at 8:33 AM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


The UK experience: Going out still not horrible enough. It's even true in "nice" Cambridge, alas.

I've been here nearly 20 years, and think it's got worse. As far as I can tell, what's changed is the introduction of large drinking barns (Wetherspoons and the like), and having a handful of those on the same street. Plus, I got older, of course, so fings ain't what they used to be.

A combination of minimum prices and social disapproval for public drunkenness seems like a good idea. I'm not sure how you get the latter, though. I think it's happened for drunk driving, so it's clearly possible.
posted by pw201 at 8:57 AM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd agree to the fact that drinking has a huge cultural component.

I was bought up to drink. To drink was to be manly, and the degree of that manliness was dictated by how much you could drink and still stay standing. I grew up surrounded by men who'd regularly boast about drinking 16 to 20 pints on a days binge. I wanted to emulate these men.

I was so incredibly proud the day I managed to drink eight pints (Doing the Gallon in the local parlance), and even now the fact that I can imbibe a huge amount and still seem sober is a mark of pride for me. Never mind the huge amount of damage I've done myself over the years. Drinking is a man's game that men do.

I spent six years living in a shared house, and we'd regularly put away two bottles of wine (or a six pack of lager, or six pints in the local off license.) By regular - I mean we'd do this 4 or 5 times a week.

The next door neighbour drank more than us, and yes - we looked up to him - right until he started coming round asking for "loans" to buy drinks with and he died of alcoholism.

Lord only knows how we didn't descend into alcoholism ourselves.

So yes - The biggest component is cultural, and the fact is - in large sections of this country - you're a lesser person if you can't drink a large amount.
posted by zoo at 9:09 AM on November 21, 2012


So yes - The biggest component is cultural

Class rather, from the idea that binge drinking lager louts are the problem, the media hype over strong beer when strong = 5% ABV, to the tramp with the tin of Special Brew as the image of alcoholism rather than the bruschetta munching two bottles of winer per meal middle classes.

Meanwhile the higher prices on alcohol are already fueling the black market.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:55 AM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I lived in New York City for 20 years, then moved to London 10 years ago. My sense is that Brits like to get hammered whereas New Yorkers don't. Mostly I think it distills to this: British repression needs an out, whereas NY is by comparison an extrovert culture.

In London I have grown used to seeing clots of drunken young men out together on a Friday or Saturday night, no girls in sight until you see a separate group of drunken lasses. This is odd in NYC, common in London. I find it sad because I'm convinced most of these young men wouldn't feel the need to get stinkyfacedrunk if they could learn how to chat up girls while sober.

I do not believe alcohol abuse in the UK has anything to do with Pub hours or the cost of drink. It's the culture, which looks to booze as a social lubricant. I believe that Britain should send every 16 year old boy and girl to a long weekend at an alcohol-free club med where they learn to chat sober. Would pay for itself in reduced fights, car crashes, sickies and whatnots.
posted by JConUK at 12:37 PM on November 21, 2012


The problem is that beer is much cheaper in America than in England (by about 10-15% for what I drink) providing a substantial counter example.

You're right; this completely obviates the dozens of peer-reviewed studies.
posted by smoke at 1:02 PM on November 21, 2012


every pub a bar that served food etc
If it didn't have a bar, it wouldn't be a pub!
posted by Bwithh at 2:04 PM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


cultural habits (pubs, unlike European bars were not places you went to eat)

This has changed with the gastro ( not just high-end, low-end too) boom in the UK in the 2000s, but is probably part of the historical roots
posted by Bwithh at 2:08 PM on November 21, 2012


In Canada pubs are places you go to have a lovely meal with a drink to wash it down; in the UK it seemed the pubs were much more loud places to get drunk that happened to also serve food as an auxillery activity.

You are going to the wrong kind of pub in the UK. There are a ton of places geared towards quiet pub meals ( especially the Sunday roast tradition). The UK has a great diversity of pubs ( including yes, divey places for rowdy revellers to get smashed but also many quiet meal places and community-orientated places) - the meaning of "pub" in Canada is probably narrower.
posted by Bwithh at 2:14 PM on November 21, 2012


You're right; this completely obviates the dozens of peer-reviewed studies.

Those studies are within countries and not between and my point was that the between countries difference was possibly larger indicating that culture may be more significant than pricing particularly since the price differences between countries are large and the alcohol consumption appears to have an inverse relationship in case I am most recently familiar with (cheaper booze in the US than England yet much less drunkenness than England).

I could be wrong about the importance of culture but I have now lived in three different countries and visited many others and drank in all of them and the drinking culture in England was, to put it politely, unique.
posted by srboisvert at 2:53 PM on November 21, 2012


As a resident of Norway, where a pint of beer in a pub costs at least $10, I laugh at the suggestion that high prices somehow limit people's alcohol consumption.

Well, i lived there for a while, and it felt similar to what's said about England. In general, people don't really drink during the week, and then on the weekends they buy the shittiest cheap beer in the supermarket, get sloshed at home, go out and just buy a pint at the pub while already drunk. It also created this obsession whenever there was a possibility of free booze, and some people offered a very sad spectacle every friday beer (where the company would pay for the alcohol).

Personally, i like drinking good beer in moderation, so the norwegian prices were a bit of a drag, and in many occasions i stopped drinking not because i didn't want to drink anymore, but because i didn't want to drink enough to justify 10-15usd for a glass of beer.

The price also has some funny cultural consequences, like people religiously drinking the exact beer bottles they brought to the party (this is somewhat relaxed later on when everyone is proper drunk), in contrast to what i was used to in Argentina where the host provides all the booze, or it's specified everyone takes something which is then shared by everyone else. This led to a funny-awkward-cringe moment on my first house party, where i took a random beer from the fridge... beer which belonged to the host, from his hometown, gifted to him by his girlfriend, and he casually called me on it in front of everyone else.
posted by palbo at 3:44 PM on November 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I lived in London for a year in the mid-80s (and Paris for a year before that) then came back to Canada and went to grad school = no money for travelling.

My experience was that the English did, culturally, drink an insane amount at all hours of the day -- buying rounds meant everyone in a group had to drink at the same pace as the fastest drinker, leading to shit like the 5 pint lunch hour. And being genteely, brayingly hammered at social events was a kind of a given.

I've made a couple of research trips over the last few years, and one thing that's changed is that people seemed to be drinking mixed drinks -- usually really strong ones - at the same pace that they used to consume beer. It's a different kind of hammered.
posted by jrochest at 10:57 PM on November 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


leading to shit like the 5 pint lunch hour

I've still got that passport SOMEWHERE... goddamn maroon menace, where are you?!
posted by Slackermagee at 1:14 AM on November 22, 2012


leading to shit like the 5 pint lunch hour

Don't knock it. Copious booze is what kept the Empire going.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:37 AM on November 22, 2012


Alcohol has always been cheaper if you buy it in a bottle and pour it yourself at home.

It's become significantly so in the past few years, though. My SO and I went to a central London pub with my nephew - the kind that people who work in the area would go to after work, not a fancy place - and two pints and a coke cost us £14. If it's a choice between going to the pub with your friends/girlfriend or staying home with your supermarket beer and a takeaway when your friends come over to play poker or watch a film, then many will choose the latter.

I think as well the function of pubs and clubs to meet partners is diminishing a little with internet dating, and mixed-gender friendship groups being more common than they were in the past - the majority of those I know met their partners online, through work (I work in the media where long hours are common, meaning a lot of people pair off with colleagues) or through friends (though probably this was down the pub) - it's rare for someone to go out in a single-sex group and cop off with another single sex group these days.
posted by mippy at 6:39 AM on November 22, 2012


Maybe we are looking at a statistical thing here? My response above, and the similar ones being echoed here, are based on admittedly casual observations of the average price paid for a beer/cocktail/whatever in bars and liquor stores. The papers above (and I have really only glanced at them) seem to suggest that these same countries where the average price is comparatively high also have extremely cheap per-unit-alcohol drinks available. Perhaps the countries which we observe to be on average cheaper (yet not noted for higher levels of problematic extreme alcoholism), don't supply the insanely cheap option? Something is counter-intuitive here.
posted by molecicco at 6:41 AM on November 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


We should note that cultural norms about drinking can change dramatically from generation to generation within a society. For instance, here's Gladwell on a bestselling 1950s novel set in contemporary New York where the *normal* drinking patterns of a normal, family-suburban-man respectable executive are described - these being very heavy, even dangerous by US standards today.
posted by Bwithh at 11:53 AM on November 24, 2012


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