Is Alcoholism Really a Function of Cheap Alcohol? I’m not Convinced

Is Alcoholism Really a Function of Cheap Alcohol? I’m not Convinced

The article at www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/may/30/hospital-admissions-alcohol-million-year discusses National Health Service findings that, in 2011-12, an estimated 1.22 million hospital admissions in England were linked to drinking too much alcohol. This represents a 51 per cent rise over the past nine years.

Not surprisingly, the figures drew more comment on the question of setting a minimum price for alcohol. Theoretically, this subject is under consideration in England but is likely to be dropped in the face of wide-ranging opposition.

In the article, Nick Sheron, adviser on alcohol at the Royal College of Physicians, is quoted as saying that: “The rise in alcohol addiction is being driven by cheap alcohol” and that “a minimum unit price for alcohol would effectively tackle this problem.”

I’m not convinced it’s as simple as that.

Yes, there is evidence linking cheap alcohol to increased consumption but personal experience leads me to believe that, if you’re genuinely addicted to alcohol, you’ll drink it at any price. It’s your first priority. You’ll buy it before you buy food or pay the bills. In the past, when alcohol was more expensive and harder to come by, alcoholics drank whatever they could lay their hands on – methylated spirit, lethal home-made brews and, of course, in the case of Vivian MacKerrell on whom the character Withnail was based, lighter fluid – even if they knew it was quite likely to blind or even kill them.

In England, some alcohol costs less than mineral water unit for unit and is available 24 hours a day in bars, supermarkets and, bizarrely, petrol stations. I think few outside the industry itself would argue that this has no impact on how much some people drink. But I don’t that that all of the young people who ‘pre load’ before they go to expensive clubs and are then photographed for the Daily Mail staggering around with their knickers round their ankles, randomly beating people up or vomiting their chips into the gutter are alcoholics. However, I do suspect they have a lot to contribute to that hospital admissions statistic.

I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t be looking at ways to change the culture of drinking in the way we have with smoking. But I believe that blaming alcoholism on cheap booze alone trivialises and distracts from the broader psychological, social and economic issues which, quite literally,drive a true alcoholic to drink.