Thursday, August 20, 2009

Alcohol problems.

David Cameron has pledged to raise taxes of high-alcohol beers and alcopops if he wins the next election. He will get brickbats from the right of his party, but many old people will support his stance.

Alcohol is a real problem. When we see 22-year olds dying of cirrhosis, when we see people afraid to go out on the streets at night, when we see a rise in date-rape, when we see young boys and girls collected by a police van late at night because they are too drunk to go home; then we know we have a problem.

How to solve it? Tony Blair thought he could solve it by abolishing licencing hours; he hoped that we would adopt a continental-cafe mentality. He was wrong, the hours of binge drinking simply got longer.

We know what doesn't work - prohibition. During the days of the Speakeasy the number of units of alcohol consumed in America did not diminish, but the mode of consuming it did. Wine and beer consumption was less, but spirit consumption increased. This was the day of the cocktail. Cocktails were invented because raw spirits were unpalatable, so they added sweeteners. Since transport of alcohol was risky and expensive, it made sense to have fewer journeys and lore concentrated truck loads hence spirits rather than wine or beer.

Today in Britain we are seeing a growth of stronger alcoholic drinks. Alcopops are the new cocktails. Beers are getting to be as strong as fortified wines.

So David Cameron's solution seems sensible. He is also intending to stop kebab stalls and other fast-food outlets from selling alcohol in the early hours of the morning. But another problem he has to face is that of youngsters getting drunk before they go out by buying cheap alcohol from supermarkets. In some supermarkets I visit they seem only to sell alcohol, fast food, and sweets. Alcohol is often marketed as a loss-leader to entice people in.

A further hazard is alcohol coming in from France. Vast alcohol supermarkets are situated close to Calais. As long as it is for 'personal use' unlimited amounts of duty-free alcohol can be imported from Europe. You would be surprised how much these 'persons' in their white vans can 'use'. The restriction is regularly flouted but how do you prove it?

I dare say my right-wing friends will be appalled that I suggest that alcohol consumption should be restricted, but all I can say to them is take a turn in an ER and try to staunch the bloody vomit from a 25-year old with esophageal varices.


Elizabeth said...

I think maybe part of the problem is that alcohol is being used as a problem-solver by so many people, especially youngsters who see no meaning or point in their lives except hedonism. And they end up using alcohol to insulate themselves from the tedium/reality of their lives.
Of course, it solves nothing and ultimately causes more problems.

Our family is in the position of having to watch a loved one slowly dying from end-stage alcoholic liver disease. Watching someone with massive ascites needing 21 litre paracentesis to be done on a weekly basis is no joke. Hepatic encephalopathy is no joke. Hepato-renal syndrome is no joke. Five month long hospital stays are no joke, for the patient or their family.

I would love to see the supermarkets showing some ethical and responsible behaviour by immediately stopping the "Buy one get one free" offers on large multi-packs of beer/cider/alcopops as well as hiking the prices up.

The costs to society/NHS of alcohol abuse are horrendous.

It is crazy that I can walk into virtually any supermarket and have to pay far more for a bottle of water than I would for a can of cheap cider/lager.

Anonymous said...

We have discussed this issue previously. I believe alcoholism to be biochemical in nature and impossible to control.

The only sensible options that fit within our societal mores may be to impose new taxes on such beverages and to simultaneously earmark the revenues solely to programs that treat alcoholics and their victims (including innocents killed by drunkdrivers, etc.).


Burke said...

Alcoholism is like drug abuse. Everyone talks about the problem, but no one asks the essential question:

Why do people choose that lifestyle?

Why do people want to obliterate their consciousness with such substances?

I think it's a cultural problem, a problem with the basic premises prevalent in Western Society (as well as in others).

Most philosophical outlooks are anti-life. Everything people do for themselves is "evil," "selfish," "greedy," "profit-driven," etc. People are sold that stuff from birth by religious leaders as well as those of socialistic, secular bent.

Seems to me that people who choose to make money and get rich and who are proud of their accomplishments and can enjoy them without guilt have better things to do than kill themselves with drugs or alcohol.

We are taught from birth that self-sacrifice is a virtue and that "things of this Earth" are evil.

So the drunks and addicts are virtuously sacrificing themselves.

We end up with the expectation that government force should be used to solve the problem. But the addicts and alcoholics continue to kill themselves just like the did before, but they then take the rest of us down with them.

Anonymous said...

Burke...I have spent more time, energy and effort during my career taking care of alcoholics and the innocent victims of their abuse than I care to remember.

As unpleasant as it often is to deal with these people and their issues I have truly come to believe that there is a fundamental difference between ills brought on by sloth, ignorance and the like and ills brought on by compulsions which we have yet to completely understand much less know how to control.

Most alcoholics are unable to to overcome their addiction without a strong and ever vigilant support system (including counseling and generous time devoted to organizations such as AA). Those without such support are almost always doomed to fail.

We may disagree on this point, but while I dislike alcoholics and prefer to avoid them, I do not feel that they are evil as are many sociopaths, psychopaths and the like.

I sometimes experience difficulty avoiding ice cream or another cookie...thank God it's only that!


Burke said...

For about 9 years, mostly during the 70's, I had a bad drinking problem, bad enough that my doc told me that if I didn't quit, I would have permanent liver damage within 5 or 6 years. On January 1, 1982, I had my last drink ever. And I did it myself, without any "help."

There is such a thing as rational recovery.

In my profession, I have had occasion to come across many, many substance abusers. I've seen them being sent off for treatment over and over, and over and over, it has failed. I've come to the conclusion that most such treatment is a scam, with those providing the "care" being not better than those they treat. Many just exploiting the addicts. They are selling things that are not cures.

People have to decide that they want to live. Until they do that, they don't have a chance.

And it's something they have to do themselves. No one can do it for them.

Anonymous said...

I like a beer now and then and a mixed drink, but alcohol is evil. Trouble is, it's a huge industry and employs millions. And like like tobacco, heavily subsidised. Why do we prefer to act ignorantly and spend our money on these dangerous products? It is up to each of us to declare personal prohibitions. When enough of do this the status quo might change and common sense prevail.