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Stuff & Nonsense, Part 10

Last week, you probably recall I was following Pete Brown’s brilliant refutation of his national health service’s attack on alcohol, beginning with, Stuff & Nonsense: The UK Health Select Committee Report On Alcohol. The first nine parts of Pete’s rebuke were posted last week and today part ten, the last one, was also posted.

In part 10, Pete tackles an issue that isn’t entirely relevant in the U.S., because as far as I know there aren’t any states that allow it. The issue is Binge drinking has been made much worse by 24 hour licensing. Despite that, it’s a still a great read an interesting peek into the window of manipulation that’s taking place at the hands of the UK Parliament. This, sadly, is similar to our shores where neo-prohibitionists have worked their way — and their agenda — into politics at all levels. The rest of us, understandably were busy just trying to enjoy our lives, and so missed seeing what was going on until it was nearly too late.

Part of the problem here, at least in comparison to the UK, is we don’t have the same tradition of pub culture. When we separated from mother England, our two drinking cultures diverged dramatically. England’s stayed something that was part of their culture, something to be proud of, that had national associations. Ours fractured into taverns, pubs, dive bars, biker bars, fern bars, niteclubs, pool halls, chain bars, etc. And from the beginning of the temperance movements, all those were demonized and continue to be demonized. It’s a rare bar in the U.S. that can call itself a family place. And that’s at least part of the reason why so many can’t see alcohol as part of society, but something to be feared and separated, especially from — gasp — the little children.

That’s also why it was great seeing Pete’s addendum to his series, Answering the Neo-Prohibitionists — A Series Disclaimer. In it, Pete relates some personal stories of how alcohol abuse has affected him. It sounds like he didn’t want to recall such painful memories, but felt he had to do so, so that people criticizing him understood where he was coming from and that he did understand that alcohol can be destructive. I get that, too; the criticism for talking about neo-prohibitionists too much. But for whatever reason, I don’t mind talking about my own history with alcohol abuse. I grew up with an abusive, alcoholic, violent, clinically psychotic stepfather. He surrounded himself with other alcoholics and I all but grew up in bars around eastern Pennsylvania.

I’ve even written about it before, both here and as a semi-fictional memoir I did for NaNoWriMo a few years ago. The rough draft I wrote extemporaneously is still online, actually. It’s called Under the Table and hasn’t been edited since 2006, so expect lots of typos, run-on sentences and all manner of grammar horrors, assuming you’ve got a lots of spare hours to kill and have any desire to crawl inside my head (don’t say you haven’t been warned).

But the reason for bringing this up now is that even as a child I understood something the average neo-prohibitionist can’t seem to wrap his or her head around. And that’s the fact that my stepfather was — and indeed most alcoholics are — that way for reasons that have nothing to do with the booze itself. Attacking the product and its manufacturers and consumer’s access to them does absolutely nothing to stop people from drinking. If anything, it exacerbates those problems. Witness American Prohibition. Did it stop people from drinking? No. Did it increase crime? Yes. Did it work? Not even a little, yet there are people for whom that lesson counts for nothing and want to give it another go.

Here’s Pete’s take:

Firstly, because having witnessed it close up, I know that when people step up to fight alcohol abuse, they go for the wrong targets. People don’t drink harmfully because alcohol is there, or because it’s cheap, or because it’s advertised. Restricting the availability of alcohol won’t help alcoholics. These people live for alcohol – it’s the only thing they care about. Make it expensive and they’ll go without food, sell their house, Christ, they’d sell their fucking kids for a drink. Prohibit it altogether and they’ll drink meths, or nail varnish remover, or after shave.

Alcoholics drink not because it’s there, or cheap, or tastes nice, but because they have deeper trauma and/or unhappiness in their lives. Even if you were studying this at GCSE level, if you look at it scientifically, if availability/pricing/advertising of booze caused problem drinking, then everyone exposed to it would be more likely to problem drink. But most people in theUK are drinking less. A minority are drinking to harmful levels. And as far as I can tell, no one is studying that minority in detail and asking what it is about them that makes them different from the majority.

It’s easy to blame the availability of booze. And it is shameful that problem drinkers are not being researched in a way that can highlight what it is that’s different about them that makes them more likely to problem drink.

People drink to excess because they are unhappy, because they feel empty inside, because they are lonely, because they are stressed, because they have shit jobs being bullied in call centres and alcoholic oblivion is the only escape they can see. Why is no one helping them? Because it’s a bit more complicated than just blaming drink, that’s why.

Secondly, I’m doing this because for the vast majority of people, drink is an innocent pleasure with minimal health risks beyond a few extra pounds or the odd hangover. My father died of smoking-related lung cancer when he was 58 and I was 27. I’ve read the science, and I know that there is a direct linear relationship between smoking and ill health – every single cigarette you smoke causes you damage. Drink is not the same. There are healthy levels of alcohol consumption.

My close quarters witnessing of the destruction alcoholism can cause makes me more keenly aware of the benefits of moderate consumption, and the stark difference between the two. So it makes me very angry indeed when someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about tars all habitual drinkers with the same brush. And even angrier when newspapers distort the facts even further for nothing more than a sensationalist story.

Thirdly – quite simply, because it needs doing. A quick review of press stories about alcohol over the last week alone will show you how drinking is being demonised and made socially unacceptable. It’s based on lies and distortions. The figures say the problem is not getting any worse – if anything, the situation is improving. No one in the media seems to want to report this truth. No one questions press releases from avowedly anti-drink organisations. My blog posts might seem excessive if you’ve been staying tuned over the last week or so, but they amount to a fart in the face of a hurricane compared to the anti-drink propaganda that’s out there every single day.

In summary then – I know the ill effects of alcohol abuse as well as anyone, and care about them as much as anyone. I’ll never deny that there’s a problem, and am not seeking to do so on this blog.

But if that problem is going to be dealt with effectively, it has to be understood properly. I think the neopros are acting against the interests of the majority of drinkers. But worse, because they are approaching the problem over-simplistically, wilfully distorting the evidence, and confusing personal beliefs with real health issues, I don’t think their antics will do anything to help the people who really need helping. And that is just shameful.

That’s why I’m doing this.

Amen, brother.

To sum up, if this is new to you, start with Pete Brown’s Health Select Committee Report on Alcohol. Part One (of 10) was published Sunday, Alcohol consumption in the UK is increasing. On Monday, parts two, 25% of the UK population is drinking at hazardous or harmful levels, and three, Binge drinking is increasing, were published. Tuesday saw part four: Alcohol is becoming cheaper/more affordable, and yesterday part five, Alcohol related hospital admissions — and the cost of alcohol to the NHS — are soaring, was published online. Overnight and today, part six, Alcohol abuse costs the country £55bn a year, part seven, The best way to reduce the harmful effects of alcohol is to reduce overall consumption, part eight, Alcohol advertising and promotion must be tightly regulated because it encourages underage drinking, and part nine, Pubs are a problem, went up. And finally, part ten, Binge drinking has been made much worse by 24 hour licensing.

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