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shoshenmerningersdavis, jackassnm
September 6, 2004 10:15 PM   Subscribe

A returned U.K. expat on English drinking's sharp increase.
(supporting study with female subjects) (the gov's counterintuitive but well-researched solution)
Brits: any accuracy to the concerns?
posted by Tlogmer (45 comments total)

 
Yes and no. Factually, he's on the money. However, you don't walk around generally avoiding marauding drunkards at all hours of the day.

That said, I know quite a few people who get out of work at five, then go and drink all evening, wake up the next morning and don't really remember it much. They all claim it's their way of beating 'stress'. Sorry, but if your job sucks that much, it's not a sustainable way of life. I also know a couple of people who drink because 'they enjoy drinking' but they seem to be in the minority, and most people seem to do it because a) everyone else does, and b) it heals some sort of 'pain' which people are being conditioned to feel.
posted by wackybrit at 11:18 PM on September 6, 2004


Alcoholism denial is epidemic on both sides of the pond.
posted by Zurishaddai at 11:31 PM on September 6, 2004


It's true that Brits have enough self-control (just barely) to confine their drinking to the evenings and in the company of other Brits. But I cannot believe that claim that it beats stress.

If you've ever seen British gap-year kids on holiday, they will hold drinking orgies (even on a beach resort) that few other nationalities will partipate in with such sustainability. Even the Germans tend to shy away from those after seeing the Brits go at it. How can there be any "pain" on a beach resort?

No. It's become more of a socialising habit with the Brits like wackybrit's first reason claims.
posted by timyang at 11:41 PM on September 6, 2004


On the streets of binge Britain also talks about some of the forces that produce binge drinking.

i think there is something uniquely hedonistic about the brits (and i am one) that contributes to the drinking till unconcious behaviour. indeed i have seen someone continue drinking after they had fallen asleep on their bar stool.

the damage it has done is incalculable. british towns are war zones each weekend, and just walking around is scary.
posted by quarsan at 12:07 AM on September 7, 2004


The "solution" is not in the slightest bit counterintuitive - it's bleedin' obvious, and it has been proposed regularly for as long as I can remember.

Given that things will obviously get worse for a while (3-6 months? maybe longer?) after opening hours are extended, I just wonder if the government will have the balls to continue the experiment until people get used to the fact that the bell will not toll at 10:45.

Instead, I have a feeling that after a month someone will say "well! this was a total failure, we're stopping it now and we're never trying it again!".
posted by cell at 12:15 AM on September 7, 2004


When Brits arrive on the continent it takes them a few months to drop the 10pm "last call" mentality - downing multiple pints and shots before (imagined) pub closing at 11 pm. Which means that our Sassenach friends experience a rapid personallity change between 11 pm and midnight. Either they get pushy and violent (just taking the piss, ay?) huggy and sentimental (you're my mate, wot?) or they lose motor control and fall down.

After a couple of months they learn that pubs (at least in East Europe) don't close at 11, and they seem to get better at maintaining themselves. The British pub laws must go.
posted by zaelic at 12:58 AM on September 7, 2004


To clarify, I didn't mean Counterintuitive to imply Wrong.
posted by Tlogmer at 1:13 AM on September 7, 2004


What I find even worse than binge drinking is the numbers of people that have a bottle of wine each night to relax after work, or a few beers when they get home. To me, these lone drinkers are prime canditates for alcoholism.

Binge drinking does create the drunken louts we all know and hate - but at least it has the social aspect. I have been known to binge drink (but very rarely these days) and as long as I know my limit I'm ok and can't see any problem with it (but luckily I don't become a violent or sad drunk). In fact,when I do binge drink its usually on a night out clubbing until 7am when the drinking is spread out over perhaps 8 hours and so therefore is not binge drinking!! :) But then it has to be said that the best club atmosphere is one where everyone is off their faces and drinking water! You just don't get that yobbish culture in that environment.

I am all for the government change and it will go through that initial novelty stage but will become successful in changing the general mentality of us 'hedonistic' brits.
posted by floanna at 1:21 AM on September 7, 2004


I agree with zaelic. Britain's so-called 'Binge' drinking phenomenon is all down to our antiquated drinking laws. In England and Wales, bars and pubs must close at 11pm (in Scotland, they get an extra hour - 12am). So, the average joe with his mates will go out on a quest to down as much booze as possible before the bell sounds for drinking up time. If the laws were relaxed, and bars stayed open until at least 1am, you'd see much less of the 11pm deluge of drunks on town and city centre streets causing trouble and mischief.
posted by metaxa at 1:28 AM on September 7, 2004


I was out of the UK for six months & really noticed the drinking culture when I got back recently. There are countries where people drink more (Australia & New Zealand spring to mind) but it's more constant & less bingeing.

In the UK work the longest hours in the EU & self-medicate with booze. In the US where the hours are even longer, pills are the preffered alternative.

For all our western freedoms we don't seem to be that free sometimes.
posted by i_cola at 1:41 AM on September 7, 2004


...or be able to spell...
posted by i_cola at 3:38 AM on September 7, 2004


metaxa - 12am closing time in Scotland? since when?
posted by the cuban at 4:53 AM on September 7, 2004


It's funny but I got totally shitfaced on Sunday and on the way between pubs at about 10pm we ended up picking some bloke up off someone else's front path, waking him up, getting his address and dragging him back to his own place, which happily enough was on the way. No fighting ensued.

The rest of you are all soft.

Except seanyboy who in my mental picture always has a pint of bitter in hand.
posted by biffa at 5:05 AM on September 7, 2004


Drinking in UK city centres is a young man's game. It makes me grateful I'm not a young man anymore and can stick to the relaxed if drunken local.
posted by squealy at 5:08 AM on September 7, 2004


I recently moved away from a block in Manhattan that had seven bars on it. I can assure everyone that Americans binge drink themselves to the point of making total asses out of themselves and getting into fights very frequently as well. I don't know about the UK side of things, but one difference in American cities (at least NYC and DC, where I've lived) is that it is very expensive to drink a lot in a bar. To get *really* drunk I'd need to drink at least 10 coctails or 12-15 beers during a night. That would come out to be about $100 worth of drink, without a tip. Is it that expensive over there as well? I don't know many younger people that could shell out $500-$600 a week to stay drunk.

And as a side note: I was slighltly infamous in college for my ability to drink anyone under the table until my roomate brought over his brit friends who were teaching at a soccer camp. I was able to keep up with them for about two hours before becoming completely incoherant and passing out. When I woke up a 4am they were still at it, having closed the bars and drunk a few litre bottles of cheap vodka as well. I was amazed.
posted by n9 at 5:12 AM on September 7, 2004


I thought this was a decent article with more than a ring of truth about it. The Uk does have a serious binge problem. At one of my local pubs the bouncer have to drag drunk old men into the street come 11 o'clock. Weird and slightly sad.

Around £2.20 for a pint in there. 5 pints would certainly get me well on the way.
posted by laukf at 5:22 AM on September 7, 2004


12-15 beers costs only $100 in a bar? I wanna drink where you drink!
posted by sic at 5:25 AM on September 7, 2004


Actually, those are only cheap for NY prices, its much cheaper to drink in other cities in the US and in Spain it's practically free!
posted by sic at 5:29 AM on September 7, 2004


Well after my last comment I went and did some googling. Bloody Hell, apparently the UK is very close to having a record wherein everyone in the country has a drink over the course of a year. We are only let down by women over 75. (BIG pdf file) MeFite's may be surprised to learn that the Portuguese are actually way below the EU average for number of drinkers, however they are fairly high up for alcohol related mortality. The Germans and the Northern French are most likely to cark it from booze. Despite the enlightened Scottish attitude to licensing, our friends in the north are more likely to die for booze related reasons than the inhabitants of any English region.

n9: 8 pints of wife beater in an British pub should be enough to render insensible anyone who isn't already an alcoholic, and will set you back less than £25, which IIRC is less than $45. (For the record, I wouldn't even think about trying this myself). People in sports clubs, especially 18-21s, will drink a lot socially. Traditionally in UK Universities, wednesday afternoon is free from lectures so that students can partake in sports clubs. Frankly this can be carnage - I have known people who claim then can do 20 pints of lager, I suspect it was a bit less but this is clearly alcoholism. The first 2 weeks of term see 'initiations' and will also see massive bingeing, but boozing will form the centre of the social lives of many UK students from 18 onwards.
posted by biffa at 5:39 AM on September 7, 2004


"Alcohol goes to the heads of the English, the faces of the Japanese, the livers of the French, the stomachs of the Greeks, and the sexual organs of the Americans."

Anyone else know this proverb? It's certainly true as far as the English are concerned.
posted by verstegan at 6:05 AM on September 7, 2004


A friend of mine is researching this over the course of the next few weekends (funded by a company called Wine Intelligence, presumably after 'proof' that beer and spirits are to blame for binge boozing.) She's the third person I know doing similar research this year, which makes me wonder if drinking habits have really changed, or if it's just an upsurge of research into drinking habits.

I'm not sure binge tendencies are just down to the DORA-hangover licensing laws, though. More the cold weather - they keep sensible licensing hours in Sweden, and they have heavily controlled state-run off licenses, but everyone still seems to get rather well-oiled on a night out. Same goes for Edinburgh - you can drink there 24/7, pretty much, and it's practically the spiritual home of the binge.
posted by jack_mo at 6:12 AM on September 7, 2004


Last night I was drinking wine in a local pub, and it was costing about £5.50 a (not bad) bottle. If you look for it, Bitter (at 3.5% abv) can be found for £1.20 to £1.40 a pint (with £1.70 being the max)
So, the answer is yes. It's really cheap to get drunk over here.

I too have known people who claim to be able to drink 20 pints, and I've seen them do it too. The secret is to take your time, to start drinking early, and to have a really good constitution. Although hardened drinkers, I'd not classify many of these people as Alcoholics, but it's frightening to watch.
posted by seanyboy at 6:17 AM on September 7, 2004


i_cola is right - it's all a part of the work hard, play very hard culture that seems to be doing the rounds at the moment. Most people in my office work about 10-20 hours overtime a week (a necessity considering the pay) and then blow about £100 on Friday and Saturday getting sozzled (which makes earning the overtime a pointless exercise, but hey...).
I have lived all over the UK but I'd say oop north is worse for violence and drinking than anywhere. Certain towns and cities really are just not worth going to on Thursday-Saturday nights unless you have some sort of desire to get smacked for no apparent reason.
I no longer drink after work, I used to down a bottle of Jack Daniels every night weeknights and live on 2-4 hours sleep. I feel worlds better for not drinking any more (and so does my bank account) but the stress relief of drinking or drugs does seem to be embedded in our culture.
With any luck longer opening hours will result in people spreading the drinking over the longer hours. I know when I was in the US I had trouble adjusting to the bar being open later. I'd gulp my (horribly weak) beers straight down and then look baffled at the bar still being open.
posted by longbaugh at 6:22 AM on September 7, 2004


Bear in mind that in the US your average beer drinker will be on a 3% 16oz Bud & in the UK they'll be on a 5% 20oz Stella.

seannyboy: There're getting up to the £3 pint daahn sarf nowadays. At least we've got sunshine I s'pose...
posted by i_cola at 6:27 AM on September 7, 2004


This reminds me of our trip to Oban, Scotland last year. Walking out of a restaurant/pub after having ONE glass of wine with dinner, I proceeded to trip myself up on the quaint cobblestone street and sprained my ankle. The looks I got from the locals while writhing in pain were precious! I could only imagine they concluded that the big yank crawling on the pavement couldn't hold his liquor.

Okay, so they were right.
posted by SteveInMaine at 6:40 AM on September 7, 2004


As with any social trend I think there's lots of factors at play. The British 'lad' culture of boorish over-indulgence (which existed well before Loaded decided to define it), the lack of anything else to do, beer being the staple drink for many centuries and therefore lacking any kind of taboo, rigid social conventions leaving people with a need for some kind of release, an easy-going attitude to religion/morals, early industrialisation sucking people into the towns and therefore creating big social centres and increased spending power amongst the working class.

Strangely enough I think the least of these is the licensing laws. You CAN get a drink after 11pm if you're in a city and you know where to go. Behaviour in clubs and late-night bars has never struck me as being any better than in traditional pubs.

I'm not buying the longer working hours explanation either, simply for the reason that in every company I've ever worked for the slackers in the low-pressure 9 to 5 jobs have drunk as much as the target-focused in-at-8am sales people. They just don't do as much coke.
posted by Summer at 7:02 AM on September 7, 2004


the cuban: since, well, I don't know when. A long time, that's for sure. You aren't mistaking 12am for midday, are you? (12am = midnight, 12pm = midday)
posted by metaxa at 7:09 AM on September 7, 2004


Nah, i'm not confusing my ams & pms. Bars dont close at midnight in Scotland - it's normally 2am. Sometimes later.
posted by the cuban at 7:29 AM on September 7, 2004


John Preston:
Nigel! I've got the reinforcements!


Security Guard:
Drunken sod!

John Preston:
It's Jeremy! Tell Nigel to open the bloody door!

—The Fourth Protocol
posted by bwg at 7:34 AM on September 7, 2004


picking some bloke up off someone else's front path, waking him up, getting his address and dragging him back to his own place

biffa, you are a true gentleman.

Isn't it funny that the British take the opposite (and far more logical) remedy to the drinking situation than us Yanks? In the states, the drinking age used to be 18, but was pushed up to 21 because, surprise, young people like to get stupid. By that logic, your Bell should Toll at 8pm. See, then you won't have as much time to drink, and won't get as drunk. Natch.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:38 AM on September 7, 2004


You should try and get drunk in Reykjavik - 'only' £6 for a pint of lager or £8 for an 'alcopop'!!! Needless to say I was pretty sober most of my time in Iceland........
posted by floanna at 7:39 AM on September 7, 2004


TheCuban said: "Bars dont close at midnight in Scotland - it's normally 2am. Sometimes later."

Depends where you are. In ayrshire, licences are usually midnight through the week and 1am thurs, fri, sat; in the west end of Glasgow, most bars shut at 11pm weeknights and midnight Friday, Saturday.
posted by Kasino72 at 8:04 AM on September 7, 2004


I love drinking. I especially love drinking at home after work. But then again I love real ales. What's wrong with drinking at home? It's fine in France and certainly not a sign that you're a prime candidate for alcoholism.

I'd also love to believe that it's just the opening hours that are thwe cause of our problems, but having spent some time in Ostend in Belgium and seen the carnage on the streets with bars that don't shut until 4 I don't think it's just that (though I'm sure it's a part of it as 11pm is just ridiculously early).

IMO there's more of a link between the rise in binge drinking and the change in drinking establishments over the last ten years. City centres have changed as more shopping has moved out of town and now most cities will have at least a street that is just bar after bar. With so many bars in close proximity there is more than just the temptation to bar crawl, there is the competition for trade between the venues themselves, leading to ever more ridiculous happy hours and offers. These days you can find pubs that offer free drinks all night for a basic cover charge (thankfully you can't find many of them...yet).

The rise in alcopops is surely also a contributing factor, providing a strong and easy female friendly drink. You can't go and dance with a glass of white wine in your hand, but in todays super pub / club you're free to mingle with a bottle of smirnoff ice. And as any publican knows, fill a pub with women and the men will follow.

I used to be assistant manager at a very busy pub many (many) years ago. There was a lot of heavy drinking in there, but when people came in they stayed all night. you drank your drink as quickly or as slowly as you wanted. But if you're with people who are having one or two drinks then moving on you're forced to drink at the rate of the fastest in your group. And when there are two streets where every second shop is a bar, and your group is all up for moving around looking for the best time, that's a lot of drinks to be had.

Of course if you want to see photographic prooof of the damage that wandering from venue to venue having drink after drink can cause then you need look no further than these photos of young men being warned by police officers. I think they present a damning view of drinking in this country.

And any spelling mistakes in the above piece are because I'm pissed (in an English way, not in a US interpretation).
posted by ciderwoman at 8:22 AM on September 7, 2004


Dunno about the hinterlands of ayr/weegieland, but when I stayed in Edinburgh, 12 midnight closing wasn't the norm.

Far from it - it was pretty much possible to drink 24/7 there.
posted by the cuban at 8:42 AM on September 7, 2004


it was pretty much possible to drink 24/7 there

During the festival some clubs stay open until 5am.
posted by eddydamascene at 9:07 AM on September 7, 2004


I live in Bermuda, with a large expat community from England, Scotland, Ireland, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Portugal. They all party like crazy.
posted by jasondigitized at 9:08 AM on September 7, 2004


11pm is simply crazy. Over here in Oz we've got lots of establishments open until 7am or even later, which I think is great, and I hardly ever see any fights. But then there's the dreaded (imo) dayclubs for those who just won't quit!
posted by Onanist at 9:10 AM on September 7, 2004


I have a mate down south who is in the police. I once asked him what the biggest problems they face, and at number one he placed lager. Not wine, spirits or even alcopops. His reasoning was that he had never seen anyone arrested for alcohol induced crime that had drunk any drink other than lager. Stella is called Wife Beater for a reason.
I used to drink lager all the time, and when I switched to bitter, my mood was much higher at the end of the evening than it would have been if the evening was spent on lager, even if you matched the quantity on alcohol content as opposed to number of pints. Christ knows what they put in lager that has this effect.
Like all social problems there's probably too many root causes to be able to say "The problem exists because of this, therefore the solution is this."

I have lived all over the UK but I'd say oop north is worse for violence and drinking than anywhere.
I have to (partly) disagree with that. One of the reasons I moved to Sheffield from Guildford seven years ago was that it was the only place in the UK I'd ever been to where I felt safe from harrasment when walking the streets at night. There were of course plenty of drunk people in the streets, but they were happy friendly drunk people, rather than the kind that are likely to kick seven kinds of shit out of you.
It's less like that in the town centre now though. Coincidentally it is also becoming harder and harder to buy any drink other than lager as the pubs change into bars and plastic chain pubs. Ban lager! It tastes like piss anyway!
posted by chill at 9:20 AM on September 7, 2004


During the festival some clubs stay open until 5am.

And all year round, some pubs open at 6am (though most are a little on the shady side, especially for me, speaking as an English person). Still, this is the only thing that makes the Festival bearable, if your work relates to it anyway.

Right, it's nearly half five, so I'm off to the, er, tea shop for a pot of White Monkey. But I swear it'd be the pub for an IPA if the weather weren't so nice!
posted by jack_mo at 9:21 AM on September 7, 2004


A recent feature article from the Guardian about the British taste for excessive boozing.
posted by biffa at 9:28 AM on September 7, 2004


I dunno, chill. That line of reasonsing reminds me of William Hogarth's Beer Street and Gin Lane. "Gin's the source of our problems! Drink beer instead and be happy and prosperous!" Now you're telling me it's lager?

Maybe the problem is just alcohol in general. More reason to legalize It.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:28 AM on September 7, 2004


The history of drinking beer in the UK is tied to the fact that it was safer than water a lot of the time. In Soho, at the time when it was discovered that cholera was a water-bourne disease (can't remember the bod's name), those who drank from the local pump got cholera & thems that stuck to beer were OK.

chill: I think a lot of it comes down to the chemicals & additives. The Stella we get in the UK is nothing like the (proper) continental stuff and it was the same for Heineken until recently. You get all sorts of stuff in industrially produced booze.
'Stella - made to make a man moody?'
posted by i_cola at 10:31 AM on September 7, 2004


Actually i_cola, Bud is now 5% in most states in response to the popularity of ice beers. Many microbrews are 5-7%.
posted by roboto at 10:32 AM on September 7, 2004


That would be John Snow, i_cola. And now there's a lovely pub that bears his name there too.
posted by ciderwoman at 10:46 AM on September 7, 2004


I honestly think that Britain's reliance on booze is because of emotional constipation. If we didn't drink we'd hardly ever get into fights. Having said that we'd hardly get any nookie either.
posted by dodgygeezer at 2:17 PM on September 7, 2004


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