Higher prices for booze won’t solve our binge drinking culture – only a change in our mindsets can do that **caption**

An alcoholic will drink anything no matter what the price: cider, wine, vodka or rum… anything that’s to hand

Janet Street-Porter
Friday 17 November 2017 12:48
Many women think it’s their right to drink as much as they want, whenever they want. Of course it is, but what are the consequences?
Many women think it’s their right to drink as much as they want, whenever they want. Of course it is, but what are the consequences?

Booze has been a big part of my life – living with an alcoholic for over fifteen years, I know too well how drinking can destroy a relationship. Love turns into loathing; trust morphs into suspicion – on a daily basis.

All my working life has been spent in an industry where people drink every day. In my twenties as a junior journalist, I would hang out in Fleet Street bars and clubs in Soho, downing Cosmopolitans at lunchtime.

Working in television in my thirties, I was so disgusted by the levels of boozing that I stopped drinking altogether for six months. I’ve never managed that again – four weeks has been my limit. But as I’ve got older, the fear of brain damage and memory loss has kicked in, so I’ve come to know when to stop: never more than two glasses of wine when alone. I am a control freak, someone who wants to live to be 100, focused on survival – and yet I find alcohol so seductive.

It doesn’t surprise me at all that the death rates from booze among my generation of women are rising faster than for men, and have risen by a third in the last decade. More women work than ever, and can’t see anything wrong with having a glass or two at the end of the day to wind down. It doesn’t make them problem drinkers – but something more fundamental has happened: a change in mindset.

Many women think it’s their right to drink as much as they want, whenever they want. Of course it is, but what are the consequences? I have plenty of friends who never leave a bottle empty, who proudly say “I don’t drink three days a week”, but then drink far too much on the other days.

On the train to Yorkshire, I regularly see women drinking from 11am – gin and tonics, huge glasses of nasty white wine and rosé. These aren’t girls out celebrating, but businesswomen travelling in first class, where the drinks are free.

This week, Scotland became the first country in the world to set a minimum price for alcohol, after winning a five year legal battle in the UK’s Supreme Court. They want to set a minimum price of 50p per unit, which means a bottle of wine would cost more than £4.50 and whiskey at least £14.

Scotland has a real problem with excessive drinking, said to cause 1000 deaths a year, not to mention the millions spent by the NHS dealing with booze-related illness.

Street drinking is another social problem throughout our major cities. In Cardiff, the local police force are giving shopkeepers breathalyser kits, asking them not to sell alcohol to customers who register “high”. It’s illegal to sell booze to anyone who is already drunk, so the retailer has a right to protect themselves from prosecution, but should the police expect shop assistants to negotiate with customers who could be unruly and aggressive?

Minimum pricing and breathalysers in shops are just straws in the wind when it comes to re-setting our troubled relationship with booze. Already, some campaigners in Scotland fear that the minimum price has been set too low, and does not take into account inflation over the ten years they’ve been fighting to introduce it.

I used to think that pricing was part of the solution to problem drinking, but now I am not so sure. From my own experience, an alcoholic will drink anything no matter what the price. Cider, wine, vodka or rum… anything that’s to hand. It’s not about the taste, it’s about altering your perception of the world. Addicts will still be addicts, whatever the pricing. It’s the same with drugs.

In fact, young people are drinking less than my generation ever did; it’s baby boomers and middle-aged professionals who need to have a wakeup call – and they are the voters politicians cannot afford to alienate.

Up to now, the Government has refused to follow Scotland and ban supermarket BOGOFS (buy one get one free), but now Scotland has won their case, they will be under renewed pressure, with Wales and Northern Ireland both planning to set minimum pricing. Where does that leave the Government in Westminster, which sits in a building where subsidised bars are open till late and a heavy drinking culture has just been exposed through a serious of serious allegations of sexual assault?

Minimum pricing and BOGOF deals are routinely opposed by the highly organised drinks lobby and the Scottish Whiskey Association, who say they will have “limited impact” on the amount of booze that gets sold. Adding three pounds to a bottle of vodka will send millions to the Treasury, where I very much doubt it will be funnelled directly back into the NHS. Drinking is not about price, it’s about a mindset, a deep seated belief that life is only tolerable if you are slightly less in control of your senses. That’s why binge culture developed – drink nothing for five days, then get wasted and party. Price is not going to make much difference for both addicts and heavy drinkers.

We are living through “all about me” times, and I’m afraid that if a generation of older women and thousands of pensioners want to drink too much, there’s not much the Government can do about it. They will say, “It’s our life, not yours to micro-manage.” Just hope that today’s sensitive snowflakes grow up to be tomorrow’s sensible citizens.

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