Statistically, Britons are the biggest binge drinkers in Europe. Dan Shenker, the Chief Executive of Alcohol Concern believes that “drinking to excess has become a social norm.” In a society where smoking is discouraged and condemned as being detrimental to one’s health, it appears that alcohol is indirectly encouraged through cheap deals and promotional events. Following the results carried out by researchers from the UK Centre for Tobacco Control Studies, smoking in films may receive an automatic 18 certificate. This measure was considered a possibility after claims that iconic images of actors smoking in films persuade adolescents to take up the habit. However, the numerous images of alcoholic drinks in advertisements and the media go seemingly unnoticed.
Although many schools in the UK emphasise the health risks associated with drugs and cigarette smoking, few concentrate on the long term effects of alcohol abuse. The Polish photographer, Maciej Dakowicz demonstrated a collection of his work in a recent article for the Daily Mail. He commented on some of the shocking scenes he encountered whilst photographing images of binge Britain. In one photograph, an injured man has suffered a head wound and is being treated by a first aider. In another, a woman has broken down and is crying on the side of the road. Professor Ian Gilmore, President of the Royal College of Physicians claims that “being drunk for a woman is now socially acceptable. We are more than double our nearest rivals when it comes to women binge-drinking. We stand out like sore thumbs.”
The evidence is loud and clear. Britain is the binge drinking capital of Europe, but who’s to blame? The government only spends £95m a year on alcohol services, compared to an enormous £500m for drugs. This figure seems unrealistically small when the costs of alcohol misuse averages at £20 billion each year in health care and lost earnings. Alcohol is behind 40% of A and E admissions, whilst 47% of victims of violent crime believe their attackers were drunk. A survey conducted on adolescents below the age of 16 concluded that 26% of boys and 29% of girls in the UK had indulged in binge drinking at least three times in the previous months. It is clear that the government places less stress on educating younger generations about the dangers of alcohol abuse and employs fewer methods in order to deter future reoccurrences.
What does Europe do that we don’t? Firstly, alcohol is not a taboo subject in European countries like Spain and France. Adolescents will most likely start drinking small quantities in a family setting. This introduces a level of restraint towards alcoholic drinks. Whereas in Britain, children are often discouraged from drinking anything alcoholic until they are 18, resulting in a level of suspicion and mistrust. Perhaps if scenes of public indecency were discouraged, and moderate social drinking became the acceptable norm, Britain would not be regarded as the binge culture it is today.