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Last Updated: Monday, 22 September, 2003, 16:38 GMT 17:38 UK
Binge drinking: Should the laws be changed ?
A government report describes Britain as the binge drinking capital of Europe.

The report says Britain's binge drinking culture is costing the country tens of billions of pounds a year in terms of crime and disorder, in health issues, and lost productivity.

The report recommends a more continental style approach to drinking - what they call the "Mediterranean culture of moderation".

How serious do you think the problem is? Do you agree that the British have a unique drinking culture? Should there be reforms in the drinking laws?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

The following comments reflect the balance of views we have received:

This topic was suggested by Dave Williams, Sweden (ex-pat)
Are British people really Europe's biggest binge drinkers?

I think we all deserve a good drink now and then, so less of the laws! If the government want to stop binge drinking then they should stop 'happy hours' and general cheap student pubs but I can't see that going to happen can you?
Becca, Scotland

Binge drinking is a huge problem with people under the age of 18. I think it is too easy for under age people to buy alcohol and the government should find new ways to reduce this.
Claire, Scotland

I don't understand why all the latest reports say how binge drinking is costing the NHS millions of pounds. Surly the more we drink, the more we pay in taxes on alcohol! Those taxes then pay for such public services as the NHS!!
Tom, Exeter

Sweden used to have a massive drinking problem but the use of big taxes on alcohol has reduced this dramatically. Before complaining this is not fair think about the enormous strain drinking places on the NHS every year (or alternatively visit your local A&E dept on a Friday night). Who is paying right now?
Bill, UK

I think we should make drinking laws as liberal as possible
Graeme Phillips, Germany, normally UK
From a practical point of view, I think we should make drinking laws as liberal as possible. Contrary to what Bill, UK says about Sweden, Sweden, like other Scandinavian countries, has a high rate of alcoholics. Finland even has a rationing system done with coupons, but their alcoholics rate is absolutely huge. We head to France on booze cruises for cheaper alcohol, but France doesn't have anywhere near the problem with binge drinking that we have.
Graeme Phillips, Germany, normally UK

Binge drinking is just another word for bureaucratic officials to stop people having a good night out with friends which as we all know the wine flows as well as the conversation. What surprises me is that these people have on more than one occasion have probably been very drunk and i doubt very much that there are many sober med students on their night off. My opinion is lay off the good time drinkers and clamp down on under age drinkers who are the one's who cause all the bother in the first place just because it is something a bit novel. Leave us thirty something parents on a rare night out with our mates to do as we have for the past 16 years or so, have a good time catching up with a few beers or whatever!
Sarah, Chesterfield, England

Binge drinking costs the country so much because beer is so expensive.
Oliver, UK

I don't get this binge drinking - Closing times equation. When I was young(er) the intention was always to see how EARLY in the evening you could be drunk by. I actually believe licensing hours should be increased but for other reasons (freedom of choice, etc). Is the problem not the fact that we wish to get drunk so often and our behaviour afterwards more than how we buy our drinks.
Sully, UK

What I like about continental bars is that hot drinks are as readily available as alcohol and no one thinks twice about ordering a cappuccino or espresso rather than an alcoholic drink if that's they fancy. But I just wouldn't feel comfortable asking for a coffee or hot chocolate in a British pub (although it would actually be really nice to have the choice on a cold winter's night) and I think that says a lot about the role alcohol plays in our culture.
Jane, Wales, UK

A lot of the problem is that too many bars are designed to appeal to young binge drinkers - I live in Nottingham, and the market square here in the centre of town is surrounded by cheap, down market pubs which only seem to attract drunks on hen and stag parties - more sophisticated bars catering for an older clientele would help to encourage a more relaxed atmosphere
Jon, England

The answer is obvious for a government that loves tax more than life itself, just put pints on the escalator like they did with petrol. As soon as it costs twenty quid to buy a pint, Gordon will have his books balanced and no one will be drinking (except rich politicians).
Dave, USA/UK

Most trouble seems to occur just after pay day. Perhaps if most people were paid twice a month, as in USA, they would spread their drinking a little more evenly.
David, Plymouth, UK

If the binge drinking does stop will it leave a hole in the Exchequer? Drink is heavily taxed (along with Cigarettes). I don't really care weather or not the culture changes, but I do care if my taxes go up because the revenue from drunken fools has fallen.

Last week the Main Enemy was nicotine, this week it's alcohol. Will next week's Main Enemy be Freedom Of Choice?
Ian, Brit in USA

I have never understood why it has become "fashionable" to become paralytic
Andy, UK
I have never understood why it has become "fashionable" to become paralytic, especially when it is done two or three times a week. The town where I live has changed drastically over the last few years, and most of it attributed to drink-related crime. The old, traditional, quiet pubs have been replaced with loud, "yuppy" pubs. The precinct was recently refurbished in a large project by the council. Now most of the street furniture, lighting, and flowers and trees are non-existent, all through drunken yobs running rampage during the night. Most people will probably say that you can't blame drink for this, but I have seen it happening myself. Until the government curbs the availability of alcohol, my town will certainly be a no-go area on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Andy, UK

You can't honestly see the youth of today giving up getting slaughtered and going on the pull for sitting in street cafes, drinking from chrome coffee cups, discussing how "extremely good looking" the women behind them are, can you? I'm saving that for when I'm fifty and look stupid in a nightclub.
Anon, UK

The law, the law, the law, when is it going to stop that people are controlled by laws and not by their own decisions? Leave me alone, leave me alone, now leave me alone. The report says, the report says, the report says, but Joe Soap says nothing, only has a quiet smoke and drink. Please leave him/her alone. People are not statistics. Because someone, somewhere, somehow died I don't want to stop walking on the tight rope. I want to live, leave me alone.
Michael Harris, Cork, Ireland

From the comments I have read on this page you would think that there was something new in all this. In fact the only thing that is new is the phrase 'binge drinking'. A brief knowledge of history will demonstrate, from 'Gin Lane' in the 17th and 18th centuries, the 'mead halls' of the Anglo-Saxons, the huge number of pubs in the Victorian age. Remember that it was only in the First World War that pub opening hours were first legislated, the theory being that munitions workers were spending too much time and money on beer and not enough on helping the war effort. Alcohol consumption is part of our 'culture' like it or not. The only difference now is that younger people have more disposable income than in the past and they tend to be all or nothing. They (mostly) learn to moderate as they get older. Just part of the process of growing up, rather like driving like an idiot, you get over it.
Andy, Malaysia/UK ex-pat

There are a number of reasons for the alcohol-related mess we're in just now: many people believe that drinking is the only way to enjoy each other's, and even their own, company. If proper sports and recreational activities were to be made more attractive i.e. affordable and more readily available, then people would realise that there's more to life than drinking.
Christopher Raphael, Scotland

It's too much to little too late, the horse has bolted. The iron glove won't change anything, but a velvet one might. Gradual is the answer, continental drinking hours should be adopted, by the government. But employers, should use the iron glove, absenteeism, lateness, insobriety when at work should be a sackable offence, without the employer being subjected to being sued, by a drunken employee, for unfair dismissal.
F. Williamson, England

I am fed up with the football yob culture in the UK
Andy Rhodes, UK
We all like a drink and there is no problem getting merry as long as people can behave. If someone drinks to excess, gets abusive, unruly or fights then there should be a zero tolerance policy with "serious" deterrents. Like many people, I am fed up with the football yob culture in the UK, with the mindless chants, vulgar songs, general bad manners, and a complete lack of respect to others in society, which you invariably hear from the drunken packs of binge drinkers.
Andy Rhodes, UK

The number of alcohol related deaths is astronomical and yet it is one of the easiest drugs for people to buy. There is nothing worse than going out of an evening and seeing angry drunks on the streets, in some towns I have felt scared for my life due to alcohol consumption by others. It's about time that someone looked into the reasons for the binge drinking in the first place. There is too much stress in this country with longer working hours and a 24/7 culture, ease this, then possibly people can actually enjoy themselves instead of having to release their stresses by getting drunk on cheap deals in pubs.
Sarah, UK

As an ex-pat and have been out of the UK for some 20 years. When I do visit the UK, come 6pm everyone is itching to get out. Then its rush rush rush downing pints after pints in a sort of battle against time. I never realised it when I lived there; its only now that I can clearly see the UK needs some attitude adjustments. The law will make the first step in changing this binge drinking, but it will be many years before people change their habits.
John Power, Eastern Europe, ex-pat

As a student I see lots of binge drinking but do not partake. It seems terrible that so many young people have to drink large quantities to enjoy themselves. I enjoy not ruining my health and laughing at how stupid it makes my friends look. Seriously it costs money and can ruin peoples life's, short term and long-term.
Chris Nash, UK

In the US, if someone causes harm to himself or others due to the influence of alcohol, then the bar that sold him/her excess is liable for prosecution. I recently witnessed a lightweight Brit in a New York bar being sobered up with cups of coffee before he was let back onto the streets.
Most yobs don't sit at home getting drunk and then go out - they drink too much in pubs and clubs who are making a tidy profit from their alcohol abuse. Just get tough on the bars.
Dan, UK

National culture is the issue. Here in Japan society is much more rigid than in the UK and certainly continental Europe. In Japan being totally drunk and legless is not seen as an embarrassment yet when sober one is expected to follow a multitude of rules and regulations. However in Japan violence and aggression are seldom displayed by those who are drunk and in the UK its the opposite - why?
Carl, Japan

Councils encourage binge drinking by allowing all most every shop or old bank to be turned into a pub
J Simpson, England
The councils encourage binge drinking by allowing all most every shop or old bank to be turned into a pub etc. So, don't they think that these bars will want to sell as much booze as they can, and if there is trouble they should close them down all, and any drunks causing any trouble should receive a 1000 fine that would cure the problem overnight?
J Simpson, England

I think that all this binge drinking is sad. It shows a mentality that is not one of success. I have noticed since moving to this country some time ago that people have shocking attitudes to alcohol. For such reasons I like to stay in more often and spend time in chat rooms where I do not have to come across such drunkenness. It makes me sick!
Herman, UK (South African expat)

I disagree licensing laws are to blame - how can four hours in the evening not be enough time to enjoy a drink? The simple fact is people go to the pub to down as many pints as possible in that time in order to get drunk before the nightclub - there is no need to gulp the last pint before 11 pm, especially after a previous 5 or 6 pints during the evening. If the pub closed later, they would just drink even more.
P Gleave, Aus/ex UK

Having lived in Germany for a few years, the cultural difference between the two countries is frighteningly high. Here in the UK, our culture is one of drinking first then possibly finding somewhere to eat. In Germany, the evening can start off with a meal and end in a local bar. As bars often do not close before 02:00 hrs the pace of drinking is slower and more relaxed. The sooner the drinking laws in this country are modernised the better. Our current legislation means UK citizens are treated like children, and so naturally will act like children. Why cannot this government hurry up and change the law, so we are more in line with our EU neighbours. Surely a relaxation of the pub hours would be a vote winner?
Neill Burman, UK

I've returned from the US where I was impressed by the behaviour of young drinkers in clubs and bars. In the States its a drinking age of 21 which not only allows young adults a bit more time to mature before they are able to buy drink, but also its no ID , no drink even if you look 21. This, coupled with longer opening hours encourage a friendlier more relaxed and responsible drinking environment.
Stu, UK

Stopping this is easy - all that is needed is for rigorous enforcement of the current licensing laws. It is already an offence to serve someone who is drunk - if the major breweries started seeing their licenses withdrawn and their pubs closed they would stop encouraging binge drinking.
It doesn't even need the police - if teams of people flooded city centre pubs en masse collecting evidence of offences being committed most of the pubs would be closed - or shape up - in no time flat.
Dave Elliot, UK

One fun evening can lead to lifelong disabilities
Marion, UK
My 8 year old adopted son has severe multiple lifelong disabilities due to Foetal Alcohol Syndrome. He is adorable but has impaired vision and hearing, he struggles to walk and talk, and does not grow properly. FAS is not only the commonest cause of disability in newborn children, but is completely preventable. One fun evening can lead to lifelong disabilities. Our current binge culture is going to leave us with a generation of seriously impaired people - what a legacy for the future.
Marion, UK

Well, this binge drinking is actively encouraged by the pubs closing time. The average person is incited to drink as much as they can with the "last orders" bell in the pub. Then they all go out of the pub at the same time, a perfect recipe for disaster. Maybe people would sit down to a pint instead of gulping it down if closing times were abolished?
Raul Pinto, England

We need to understand the climatic and cultural difference between the UK and Europe...You can change the laws in pubs, but how does that affect people going to off licences to get booze and to get bladdered??
Chux, Leeds

I am originally from Russia, the country is quite accustomed with drinking problems, to put it mildly. Take my advice: legislation measures at best change nothing, but often only make things worse. Youngsters, when access to alcohol is made difficult beyond certain point, find other ways to get high, such as "weed", medications, household chemicals or even banned substances, such as heroin.
If you think Russia is a special case and not a good example for the British, look at America of Prohibition era. Many problems that started back then are still haunting America, and will do so for as long as one can see. The only thing that can and should be done - make punishments much harsher for drink-driving.
Alex, NJ, USA

Binge drinking is now so rooted in the British psyche that not participating often leads to social exclusion.
Ali, London, UK
Binge drinking is now so rooted in the British psyche that not participating often leads to social exclusion. This is ironic as the only socialising binge-drinkers are capable of is shouting mostly inane drivel into each other's ears late at night (often about football). However, adapting the drinking laws will achieve nothing but breed resentment towards the Government.
Ali, London, UK

Why doesn't anybody realise that alcohol is a vice. If we were to have an alcohol free society it is a fact that all domestic and public violent crimes would dramatically decrease and the hospitals would empty. This binge drinking is chemically enhanced stupidity. What a crazy and immoral society we are promoting, a chemical which causes brain disturbance and such destruction.
Ann Carrington, UK

You cannot legislate morality. Any real change will have to be brought on by the parents of the UK and taught to the generation of children now growing up. There must be a concerted effort to make everyone understand the perils of too much drink and showing sober individuals how foolish and sad people look when they are drunk.
John, UK

This has just highlighted the problem which is that Brits need to be educated in how to drink sensibly and go out without the intention of getting completely plastered. You can have a good time without getting completely drunk. I lost count of the number of times I heard (whilst in the UK) 'It must have been a good night I can't remember anything'. Changing the licensing will help in the long run, but not before people are educated on sensible drinking which will take a very long time.
Mark Richardson, Bermuda (ex UK)

As usual we have the kill joys complaining about how terrible the binge culture is in UK. It is only bad because the UK population is treated like children - ordered to go home after 2 hours and herded like cattle out of the bar/pub. I wonder if any of these so-called experts actually visit a drinking establishment? Probably not.
If you don't want people to behave like animals quaffing gallons of alcohol at light speed, then don't treat them like animals. Give them some respect.
Steve, California

This is all part of the 'sheep' culture in England, "everyone else between 16 and 30 gets drunk and disgusting so we have to do it too." Grow up, for heaven's sake, and start taking responsibility for your actions, can't these bingers see the damage they are doing to themselves and this country? Have they no self-respect at all??
Catherine Davies, England

Has nobody noticed that alcohol consumption is directly proportional to latitude? During the UK's interminably dark and gloomy winters, the only way to stay sane is to go to the pub and get bladdered. Living, as I now do, in the tropics, the first thing you notice is how much less everyone drinks, including the many Brits who live here. There are far more interesting things to do.
AJ, Cayman Islands

My parents would explain what the drink was
Lisa, UK
When I was growing up my parents always gave me a small glass of wine at the dinner table when they had some, and a sip of whatever they were drinking when we went out. Then they would explain what the drink was. As a result, when I reached legal age, alcohol held no great mystery or interest for me as I'd tasted it all before. I enjoy an occasional glass of wine, or a spirit and mixer after a meal, but that's about it.
Lisa, UK

Yes there is a problem with concentrated drinking. But all this talk of 80p happy hours! Where? I challenge you to find any in the vicinity of Reading Berkshire. They talk about putting up the prices but we already pay 2.90 for a pint up to 3.20. That's in ordinary pubs not nightclubs. So those that want to get drunk and not have to take out a loan, drink the stronger stuff. Come on wake up and increase opening hours reduce prices gradually. Re-educate the population about what is sensible and what isn't.
Julio, Reading, UK

For once I think the government has actually realised there is a massive problem and is keen to do something about it. Sorting out these problems will ease the burden on the Police and NHS at the very least. Rather than push prices up, extend opening hours or any of that, the simplest (and cheapest) method of improving the situation would be to allow authorities to decide the age alcohol is allowed to be purchased locally and enforce it strictly. On a recent trip to the US I was carded every time I bought alcohol - I am in my mid twenties and was not on a bender! Strip licences if vendors do not adhere. That will stop local shops and pubs fuelling teenage alcopop binges associated crime.
Simon W, UK

Fantastic solution to crime and disorder caused by excessive alcohol intake - allow greater intake of alcohol by extending the licensing hours. Mediterranean culture of moderation? You can see how Brits respond when given the Mediterranean drinking hours in the resort locations of Spain and Greece.
Mark, UK

What nanny-state-nonsense
Don Hughes, Hampshire
What nanny-state-nonsense. If we Brits like a drink - well so what. What possible drinking law changes could be made that would actually target the violent and abusive drunkard and not punish the rest of us for simply enjoying a visit to the pub.
Don Hughes, Hampshire

It shocks me to learn the Brits have such a terrible reputation for drunkenness abroad. Arresting people for public drunkenness might help the problem in the UK however, it will simply encourage young adults to take their partying to the continent. No, I think the lasting change has to occur within the society itself. The attitude and perception about people who get drunk and lose control of themselves must be brought to the forefront. Advertising campaigns showing how stupid and uncool being drunk is could go a long way to changing public attitude.
Beth, USA

Instead of saying "ban drinking", why not ask why people are drinking so much? If you happen to find yourself stuck in the malaise of modern office life, what else is a man to do but get hammered until you think of doing something better?
Luke Metcalf, Middlesbrough, UK

Binge drinking is at least partly to blame for the fact that on the weekends, town centres in Britain are unpleasant and intimidating. I think it is also just part of the yob culture that is in the ascendancy in this country. I think that the gangs of menacing yobs and mouthy young women you see on the streets are the symptom of a society where family values, self-discipline and respect have become weak.
Greg, UK

Like the whole teen pregnancy issue, this problem is all down to the conservative culture that we British seem to wallow in. If we were sensible about things, like our European cousins, and talked to our kids about sex, drugs and alcohol then we might not find ourselves in these situations in the first place. A stiff upper lip may have built an Empire but it's no good for supping a pint.
Andy, Plymouth, UK

I think changing the drinking laws to be more in line with the Mediterranean would be a great step forward in eliminating a lot of problems caused by binge drinking.
Rich, UK

We should look to countries like Italy and France where drink is introduced at an early agequote here
Nick S, UK
Of course it's a serious problem - we should look to countries like Italy and France where drink is introduced at an early age and it's not a novelty when you reach 18. Their children are taught how to behave and that alcohol is not something special or trendy, drunken youths are an unknown on their streets unless of course they are British!
Nick S, UK

If we all stopped drinking tomorrow the headlines would be country loses tens of billions in lost revenue, pubs, clubs and off-licences shedding thousands of staff. It's a problem yes, but why is it always measured financially, are we all so greedy we only understand finances? If this is the case then are you surprised we're all drinking ourselves senseless? It's the lack of self-respect that needs to be worked on, not just the quantity a person drinks - because there will always be some kind of manifestation of that self-hatred.
Justin, UK

I don't really see how laws are really going to change anything. What really needs to change is the UK's attitude to drinking.
Paula, UK

This is a real problem, evident to anyone walking through ordinary town centres on a Saturday evening
Julie Carpenter, UK
This is a real problem, evident to anyone walking through ordinary town centres on a Saturday evening - young people already drunk at 8/9pm roaming between pubs and bars. Drink has been glamorised with the advent of designer drinks that are also brightly coloured, sweet and sickly and cynically marketed towards people who have only recently stopped spending their pocket money on sweeties. Let's have a local tax on bars and pubs - to pay for the mess their clients make.
Julie Carpenter, UK

Alcohol has its advantages, but because the disadvantages outweigh the advantages, it should be banned. I can now see why Islam banned alcohol.
Alex Wilson, Scotland

I don't think longer opening hours are the answer, I think it will just encourage people to drink more over a longer period of time. Our whole mindset needs to change, but how we go about it, I have no idea.
Lou, UK

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16 Sep 03  |  Health

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