Keeping the binge drinking myth alive

By Phil Mellows

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Binge drinking, Alcoholism, Drinking culture

Mellows: new report worth a read
Mellows: new report worth a read
In a strange twist, it's now the drinks industry that has an interest in sustaining the binge drinking myth, says Phil Mellows.

Of course, nobody's going to take any notice of it because it's sponsored by SAB Miller.

A better reason to dismiss the new binge drinking study from , however, might be that the authors can't spell 'licensed'. But I'll grit my teeth and ignore that.

Turns out it's worth a read. Its greatest strength is that it recognises there's a difference between the binge drinking officially defined as twice the recommended limit in a session and binge drinking in its more emotional, pejorative, bandied-about sense.

The former is in decline while the latter, the authors argue, is growing or static and therefore constitutes an urgent problem to be addressed.

It's at this point the report gets into difficulties. While half-acknowledging binge drinking (I'll use the term only in its second sense here on) is a media invention with no scientific basis​ it believes that it is still, somehow, a measurable, real phenomenon.

Yet binge drinking, if it is anything, is a chimera produced by shining bright lights on our high streets and town centres and magnifying the picture through the usual feedback loop between media hysteria and political knee-jerking.

There are real problems in there but lumping them under a binge drinking headline is no help at all.

To be fair, the report does recognise the complexities and makes some good points, in particular drawing attention to recent successes in the management of the night-time economy (NTE).

But in calling for tougher law enforcement — which is not what most of these schemes have been about — it joins the moral panic that it goes some way to criticising.

It complains, for instance, that the enforcement of laws against public drunkenness have declined "despite a growth in public drunkenness and more powers available to deal with it".

It could equally well be, though, that public drunkenness has actually been falling along with alcohol consumption, and that its apparent increase is down to its concentration in certain drinking circuits convenient for the media spotlight.

And it's also the case that the latest NTE management strategies look to measures other than nicking drunks, now frequently seen as an outmoded last resort​.

Interestingly, the flaws in this study do indeed stem from its drinks industry sponsorship. The industry is right to be sceptical about total consumption policies but wrong to try to deflect attention towards 'binge drinking' which Demos calls "a particular subset of alcohol misuse".

In a strange twist, it's now the drinks industry that has an interest in sustaining the binge drinking myth.

• Read more Phil Mellows on The Politics of Drinking... and more​ website at​ or follow Phil's tweets at​.

Related topics: Legislation

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