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Binge Drinking? Moi? Surely Not

The new licensing laws have come into force and yes, surprise, surprise, the world is still turning.

That's not to say that the prophets of doom were completely wrong. Staff at pubs and bars around the country are struggling to cope with drinkers who just don't know when to stop.

There is a strange dichotomy between brewery chains who encourage staff to sell more booze - sometimes offering a free case of beer to the best performer - and individual bar staff cowering away from customers. The latest solution to the problem of binge drinking comes from one of Britain's leading surgeons. John Smith, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, is calling on the Government to limit the amount that customers can consume per visit to hostelry.

Imagine the scene: the 20 stone Glaswegian (but it could just as easily be a Londoner, Mancunian or Liverpudlian) steps up to the bar and orders one over the limit. The quaking bartender says: "Sorry, John, but it's more than my job's worth", and is the recipient of a Glasgow kiss. End of story.

So what is the most appropriate way forward? Well, let's focus on just one group of binge drinkers, identified in Debbie Newbould's State of the Nation article last year. Women, particularly, professional women, don't see themselves as binge drinkers because they see it as synonymous with bad behaviour and dysfunctionality, being out of control through excessive drinking.

This confusion leads women to ignore any communication aimed at stemming binge drinking, because they don't think it applies to them.

The new laws may stop professional women lining up drinks at the bar but, says Debbie, "they still don't recognise how much they drink. They're too busy keeping up with their male peers, and they don't realise that the new measures mean that two of the new glasses equal three of the old.

"The Government is missing the point. The issue is not about extending licensing hours but of measuring how and why these women drink."

In her view, the most obvious solution is to mount an education exercise - not just among women, but among the media who perpetuate the myth of binge drinking.

The likely outcome? Well the Government is clearly taking a risk - but it's simultaneously putting in place measures to deter binge drinkers. We await the cost to us, as tax payers.

 

Louella Miles
Copyright © Association for Qualitative Research, 2006