Alcohol – it’s not a drug, it’s a drink

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

I have had somewhat of an epiphany recently. In light of my self-questioning around the application of morality to the laws of the land – specifically with reference to drug use – I have started to perceive alcohol differently. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a drinker. I always have been, and so has everyone around me. This is despite losing people to alcohol. And yet we all still drink drink drink like it was going out of fashion.

I still told my clients the dangers of drinking, indeed I knew them myself, and to be fair in recent years I have generally drunk within ‘safe’ limits. But that is far as I ever thought about going – after all, it was safe, so why would I question it any further?

Recently, I have pretty much stopped drinking – because after a spell of drinking very little, I realised that, when I do drink, I feel anxious the next day. Not only on the night itself, but the day after, I misjudge things, and my perception of the world and of myself is altered. This has nothing to do with ‘safety’ – but it definitely has a lot to do with health. If, as I am starting to wonder, alcohol can significantly affect mood the day after use – and bearing in mind that many people drink every night – does this not have huge implications for the mental state of the nation?

Then I saw a news report last week about the proposed ‘drunk tanks’. The idea was that people who were incapable of being responsible for their own welfare because of excessive alcohol consumption would be put into a unit overnight and then charged for the care they received – both to protect people and to reclaim some of the money in revenue spent on policing costs. It seemed like quite a good idea for me. But the man representing the alcohol industry gave me an insight into how much they care about the damage done by alcohol consumption and what they want to do to tackle it – which was, in summary, fuck all. The well-groomed young man in expensive glasses had a seemingly endless list about why no national mandates should be passed – why this was about local services making local decisions. Which, as anyone who works in the public sector knows, means doing nothing. Because everyone is too busy, are all praying to keep their heads above water and their jobs, and are not about to stump up the cash and time to commission and implement something so huge without imperative direction from the very top.

And as I sat there, watching this nicely-spoken young gent, something happened. Before my eyes, he morphed into every heroin and crack dealer I had ever met. His shirt was ironed, his face was clean – but his justifications for the continued sale of his product, his reasonings for why the deaths and the violence and the illnesses were not his fault, made him seem to me no different from the many dealers I have challenged about their choice of product and its impacts. The truth was – he didn’t give a shit about the number of young women getting sexually assaulted. He wasn’t the least bit interested in how much use of his product cost the taxpayer each weekend in policing and health interventions. And he certainly wasn’t willing to do anything about it.

Now, fear not – I am not about to go all evangelical about alcohol use and start praying to a higher power for strength to repel the demon drink. I am still going to have a drink when I feel like it and, likely as not, will drink too much on occasions. I suppose I am just realising, for myself, another layer to my indoctrination on the matter of legal and illegal drugs. Alcohol is not ‘bad’ – just like any other drug – and of course alcohol companies are only interested in taking your money, as per the capitalist mantra, or just like any other drug dealer. But where is the logic that most drugs should be illegal while just one remains legal – and what impact does this have on perceived safety and social acceptability?

My brother recently came back to the UK, and commented after a night out, “God, I’d forgotten how the English drink”. Recent reports indicate that, in fact, much like the truth-dodging representative for the licensing industry, we as a nation also forget how we drink. A report published by Alcohol Concern found that, in 2007-8, for Brits to drink within advised limits, alcohol consumption (excluding that brought into the country duty-free and home-brewed) would need to reduce by a third. The report found that if the alcohol bought in shops was divided between every adult, we would all be consuming twenty-six units a week.

However, an even scarier report published this year in the European Journal of Public Health , found that half the alcohol consumed in England was unaccounted for. (Again, this does not include imported of home-brewed alcohol, so the actual consumption is even higher.) The report exposed the discrepancy between self-reports of alcohol consumption, and alcohol sales. So at least three quarters of the population are estimated to drink above recommended limits – and no-one is admitting to it.

Now the alcohol industry clearly know this. If this wasn’t happening, they wouldn’t be eating caviar on their yachts. And yet, despite the serious health problems associated with drinking at these levels, they continue to push the drug. They continue to fight legislation to minimise the harm it causes. And they continue to put their hands up in objection when anyone suggests maybe they could be partly responsible for this problem and, as such, should maybe put their hands in their ever-deepening pockets and contribute towards reducing some of the damage done by their product. No less ruthless that the dealers who keep selling heroin they know contains congealants, or market their stash of PMA as ecstacy.

It also makes me wonder how much sway the alcohol firms have in the Tories’ drug policies. They bring in billions in revenue – and I am sure they are none-to-happy at the idea of someone muscling in on their market share by selling cannabis or other alternative products. Yet again, I am left questioning how much of our legislation is about the welfare of the population, and how much is about rich people scratching each other’s backs..

6 comments on “Alcohol – it’s not a drug, it’s a drink

  1. elroberts says:

    Great post. I agree that the line drawn between a legal and socially acceptable past-time and a morally reprehensible and dangerous drug is so arbitrary as to be ridiculous. On a related note, have you seen this article on Guiness and Arthur’s Day? Diageo doesn’t seem interested in accepting responsibility for the ‘alcoholiday’ it has unleashed on Ireland…

    • Good lord, I had never even heard of Arthur’s Day! What a disgusting ploy by Guinness. At the same time, as a drinker, I fully understand why it took off! And how comfortably placed on 26th – or ‘payday’ as it is commonly known!

      What a piss-poor response from Diageo too – sending someone down to look at an A&E dept. Whoa, that is some serious commitment to change right there! What a joke.

      To be honest, I hadn’t realised the alcohol industry were quite so crude. Or that we were so dumb as to comply with their ultra-blatant marketing strategy. Oh dear.

  2. Ruthie says:

    Really interesting post! I have recently gone ‘dry’ myself because of medical issues but I have actually had the same feeling as your brother about the levels of consumption here in Britain. I went out on a night out with friends a few weeks ago and, as I was staying sober, could not actually believe a) how much was routinely being consumed in one night and b) how drunk everyone seemed. Until a few months ago I would happily do this on a weekend and then probably go out for a pint a few times a week on top, maybe with a glass of wine with a meal during the week. If i totted up my drinking, I was certainly going well over the recommended limits every week.
    The problem is, the decision not to drink is seen as a bad one in Britain. People assume that you’re pregnant, boring, or making some kind of high-handed moral statement about your superiority. The drinking culture is definitely based on peer pressure, with people coaxing you into just a pint, or just a glass of wine.
    I have had periods before where I took 3-6 months off drinking for my health but it has taken a real shock to my system and a massive lifestyle change for me to come to these conclusions. In our culture I really don’t see how heavy drinking is ever not going to be an issue.
    Although, the smoking ban did change a lot of people’s attitudes towards smoking so I think I agree with you that the government should take more decisive steps.
    Interesting stuff….

    • And doesn’t it make you wonder how much the alcohol industry has to do with perpetuating this social norm… All their adverts show young, beautiful people having a fantastic time – and the subtext is, “Do you want to be young, beautiful and fun, or not?”. When you compare that to the social norms for other drugs, and how they are perceived – doesn’t it just seem WIERD that we all accept the alcohol advertising? When, realistically, we are likely to end up looking old, minging and half-dead within a few hours?! And just imagine what the images would be like if advertising became the norm for other drugs.

      “Ecstacy – because sometimes you just want everything to be amazing.”

      “Do you want to be thin, get promoted, and have a house so clean you’re the envy of your friends? Be a Super-Mum, take Amphetamine.”

      “Cannabis – get some perspective.”

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