Leading article: Cheap drink, violence, and an outbreak of moral panic

Share
Related Topics

The debate about alcohol has become shrouded in moral panic. Barely a day passes without drink being demonised in the media. A succession of terrible stories of people killed in acts of drunken violence has been seized upon and presented as evidence of a society on the brink of breakdown. But it is not just the press. Last week, Ken Jones, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, complained that retailers were selling beer "cheaper than water". Yesterday, the British Medical Association warned that the country was in the midst of an alcohol "epidemic". There is an hysterical edge to much of this. Some of the lurid descriptions of Britain's modern-day drinking culture make Hogarth's Gin Lane look tame.

We cannot argue that Britain does not have a drink problem. We may not be the biggest consumers of alcohol in the world but the manner in which we drink is particularly unhealthy. Few nations binge-drink quite as enthusiastically as the British, and the results are often not pretty. Notwithstanding the exaggerations of the populist press, market towns and city centres can be pretty ghastly places to visit on Saturday nights.

But it is most unlikely that some of the solutions being bandied about, such as increasing the price of alcohol through taxation and putting warning labels on bottles and cans, would have a significant effect. Proponents of making alcohol more expensive assume that the demand for it would fall away. Yet it is more likely that such a price rise would push drinkers in the direction of more powerful spirits. It is hard to see warning labels having much effect on consumption levels either. Nor is there any reason to believe that a return to the old licensing hours, an option being studied by the Government, would reduce the problem. People have short memories. There was alcohol-fuelled violence in town and city centres long before opening times were extended in 2005.

We must face up to the fact that binge-drinking is a deep-rooted cultural phenomenon. The law must be enforced to stop alcohol getting into the hands of the under-aged. But if we want people to stop consuming alcohol in such a reckless manner, the solution must be, in the end, a cultural shift. It may not satisfy those who clamour for "tough" action from the Government but public education is the most realistic way to tackle the problem.

That does not mean the drinks industry should go unchallenged. It is right that social and political pressure should be brought to bear on those who market alcohol irresponsibly and on drinking establishments which have a cavalier attitude towards public order. But we will never solve the problem fully until we think more deeply about the reasons people drink to excess. When we do, it will become apparent that the hysterical fear we have of teenagers is contributing to the problem. We give young people pathetically few places to socialise, we chase them from public places with dispersal orders (and, more recently, ear-splitting electronic devices) and then wonder why they congregate on street corners or in parks to drink alcohol. This is the behaviour of a society in search of quick fixes rather than serious solutions.

Our attitudes towards alcohol need to change. We need to accept what many of our European neighbours have always known: that it is not necessary to drink to excess to unwind or have a good time. This will be a difficult, although not impossible, task. But as many a recovering alcoholic has been forced to learn, we first need to understand that alcohol itself is not the root of the problem. It is us.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial Litigation NQ+

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE NQ to MID LEVEL - An e...

MANCHESTER - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION -

Highly Attractive Pakage: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - A highly attractive oppor...

Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Norovirus the food poisoning bug that causes violent stomach flu  

A flu pandemic could decide next year’s election

Matthew Norman
J. Jayalalithaa gestures to her party supporters while standing on the balcony of her residence in Chennai. Former film star Jayalalithaa Jayaram is one of India's most colourful and controversial politicians  

The jailing of former film star Jayalalithaa Jayaram is a drama even Bollywood couldn’t produce

Andrew Buncombe
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?