One of the favourite news topics of the moment is binge drinking,
with its consequences of public disorder, pressure on accident and
emergency departments and violence towards members of the emergency
services and A&E staff. Some say that 80 per cent of referrals
to A&E at weekends are alcohol-related.
Most binge drinkers are young people, who, if asked, would probably
say that they didn’t have a drink problem, because they don’t feel
the need to drink every day. And they may be right: but they are
indulging in high-risk behaviour. Risk of injury, overdose,
violence, sexually transmitted disease.
I am convinced that the explosion in binge drinking is due to the
relative drop in the price of alcohol in bars, and the aggressive
marketing of “happy hours”, encouraging people to buy two or three
drinks at a time. International studies show that the price of
alcohol is inversely related to consumption and consequent
Public drunkenness doesn’t always cause the same problems as those
caused by chronic heavy-drinking: digestive tract disorders,
liver and brain damage, foetal distress and damage, mental health
problems, as well as domestic violence, relationship difficulties,
child abuse and financial problems.
People with chronic alcohol problems have often been seen as a
lower priority for help, traditionally because the problem has been
seen as self-inflicted. This is reflected in the relatively low
level of funding allocated to alcohol services over decades.
Front-line workers are, in my experience, often reluctant to
address someone’s drinking as part of the therapeutic relationship,
either through fear or ignorance.
As someone who spent more than 10 years as an alcohol abuse worker,
I believe that the social and health care systems need to face up
to the importance of alcohol in many of the problems they face,
whether as a consequence of mental health problems, as a sign of
underlying difficulties, or as a cause in itself.