Tuesday, January 19, 2010

booze, young people and votes

Booze became an election issue today. Rival platforms focus on cutting binge drinking in pubs or alcohol promotions in supermarkets.

What is interesting and profoundly dispiriting is that in all the posturing no one is talking about why young people in particular drink the quantities of alcohol they do. Some in the medical profession talk about the need to change the culture of drinking in the UK. But their remedies are just to price young people out of the alcohol market.

As a Street Pastor I see the effects of over-consumption on a Friday night in a relatively sedate South London suburb. Lots of the people we meet are just a bit merry, having a good time; they're with their mates and everyone will get home happy. None seem to lack the resources to buy whatever their evening needs to go well.

But far too many of them, of both sexes, are hammered, tottering, slurring, giggling, shouting, whining, unable to decide where to go or what to do next. When we talk to them, they all tell us (with very few exceptions) what a good night they're having, despite the fact that tomorrow they'll remember none of it, but be left with a sore head and possibly a profound sense of regret at what they might have said or done. The few exceptions tend to ask why they do this - end up drunk sitting in the gutter, throwing up, falling out with their friends - most weeks.

Some, still articulate enough to engage us in real conversation, will tell us that the whole purpose of the evening is to have such a good time that they won't remember it tomorrow. For them the very definition of a good time is to get completely wasted. When did swathes of our young adults sink into such despair that the only entertainment for them is oblivion?

It seems to me that what we do to the price of alcohol - assuming we're not going to put it up to £50 a unit - is utterly irrelevant. What we have is a crisis of young adulthood and none of the posturing of politicians has so far come near to recognising that, let alone addressing it.

Leadership is about seeing what is happening, speaking the truth about it and bringing people together to put things right. I'd vote for that if it was on offer.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is something I feel fairly well qualified to comment upon.

The tendency to drink is definitely a weakness, but it's a weakness that is uniquely easy to succumb to. Generally speaking, unless the person drinking is inherently violent or nasty, drink itself will not turn you so.

The problem is the person, not the product.

Having said that, the alcohol industry is definitely part of what I would consider an Evil Empire: a 'structure', (for want of a better word), unconsciously established in long ages past for the sole reason of destroying, or at least damaging, the human spirit.

You can surely perceive the connection between a yearning for God- ie, for the transcendent- and an inchoate need to get trashed on a regular basis. The two things are not equivalent, but the compulsions are broadly the same.

It's also worth bearing in mind that the rock and roll industry- of which you are a fan, it's fair to say- would barely exist without the market in intoxicants. The beauty and the beast, in that sense, walk hand in hand.

The culture in the majority of pubs is now very different from even a few years ago. Drunkeness- and even swearing- is not tolerated; the need for 'ID' is rigorously enforced; and CCTV surveillance is ominpresent.

However great a problem 'binge drinking' really is- and I'm not entirely convinced on that score- the stigmatisation of drink, and drinkers, is not the answer to it... in my humble (mildly alcoholic) opinion.