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National Scandal': Is Britain's Binge Drinking Epidemic Indicative of a Deeper Social Problem?


"Ultimately the moral cowardice of the intellectual and political elites is responsible for the continuing social disaster that has overtaken Britain."

"The girls slumped in wheelchairs look barely conscious, their blond heads lolling above the plastic vomit bags tied like bibs around their necks," the Associated Press report begins.

The report doesn't get any better:

It's an hour to midnight on Friday, and the two girls, who look no older than 18, are being wheeled from an ambulance to a clinic set up discreetly in a dark alley in London's Soho entertainment district.

They're the first of many to be picked up on this night by the ambulance, known as a "booze bus," and carried to the clinic — both government services dedicated to keeping drunk people out of trouble, and out of emergency rooms.

Binge drinking in Britain has reached crisis levels, with Prime Minister David Cameron referring to it as a "national scandal," and it's costing the country's already-strained public healthcare system an estimated $4.4 billion a year.

Why does it cost that much? Let's put it this way: if you have enough people getting fall down, blackout drunk on a regular basis, the cost of medical treatment for those who get hurt in the booze-fueled rages starts to add up.

Photo courtesy:

But there is another major health issued connected to the binging epidemic: liver disease.

"Liver disease is on the rise in Britain, increasing by 25 percent in the last decade and causing a record level of deaths," the AP reports.

"Undoubtedly professionals are seeing more (patients) in their late-20s to mid-30s, which would have been unusual 20 years ago," said Chris Day, a liver disease specialist at Newcastle University.

Doctors also believe that an increase in obesity has contributed to the rise in liver problems.

"The headline-grabbing figures about ever-younger liver disease victims may seem to suggest that Britain has quite recently turned into a nation of raging alcoholics," the AP story continues.

However, "most experts agree that Britons, on the whole, don't drink more than other Europeans — in fact, overall alcohol consumption levels here have come down since the mid 2000s," the report adds.

Photo courtesy: London Evening Standard

But because binging is still an expensive problem despite the decline in the national average, many analysts believe that it's an issue caused by one specific group.

The AP's sordid description of British drinking parties continues:

On the streets of Soho, most people are too busy drinking to notice passed-out partyers. The streets, lined with pubs and nightclubs, are just beginning to get rowdy: Men chasing each other and shrieking like teenagers; women stumbling and falling over in their too-short skirts and high heels. Soon the sidewalks are littered with empty beer bottles and reeking puddles.


Anyone who's gone out on a Friday night in any of Britain's larger towns and cities will be familiar with boozed out groups of people shouting, brawling and causing a scene as they spill out of bars and pubs. Commuters aren't immune to the antics -- especially on evenings when soccer matches are on.

Who are these people and why do they binge?

Image courtesy Belle News

Based on the fact that Britain's "national scandal" is more of a recent problem, and the fact that doctors are seeing more liver diseases in patients ages 18-30, we can conclude that the problem is more or less exclusive to the younger generations.

Social workers say "lax control of retail sales and cheap alcohol...makes it easy for young people to experiment with liquor" and the government hopes to "curb the excess by introducing a minimum price for each unit of alcohol sold," the AP reports.

But is the problem really just the drinking age and alcohol being affordable?

Increasing the legal age or the price of alcohol probably won’t stop the binging -- it’ll just make it more expensive. Like most social problems, could Britain’s “national scandal” be tied to a cultural failing?

Could the fact that the binging problem is exclusive to Britons ages 18-30 have anything to do with the West's growing acceptance of expanding government and apathy towards the crumbling of the family unit?

“The upbringing of children in much of Britain is a witches’ brew of sentimentality, brutality, and neglect, in which overindulgence in the latest fashions, toys, or clothes and television in the bedroom are regarded as the highest -- indeed only -- manifestations of tender concern for a child’s welfare,” Dr. Theodore Dalrymple wrote in 2004 essay featured in "Our Culture, What's Left of It: The Mandarins and the Masses."

Photo courtesy: Travel Between The Pages

This “witches’ brew” is amplified by the fact that Britain’s welfare state “makes it possible, and sometimes advantageous” for men to abandon their children, thus condemning mothers to a life of hardship and children to a life of “brutality, poverty, abuse, and hopelessness.”

“[T]he state absolves [men] from all responsibility for their children. The state is now father to the child,” Dalrymple writes.

But it's a two-way street. The state, he notes, also makes it “advantageous for a mother to put herself at a disadvantage, to be a single mother, without support from the fathers of the children and dependent on the state for income. She is then a priority; she won’t pay local taxes, rent, or utility bills.”

Is it surprising then that a childhood filled with “neglect, cruelty, sadism, and joyous malignity” but also an overindulgence of material goods should lead to a life of binge drinking as it has for an alarming number of Britons?

Let's pause for a moment to make two points. First, the purpose of this article is to illustrate what happens when the individual surrenders personal responsibility, and therefore his real freedom of choice, in hopes that the state will take care of him.

It is not the purpose of this article to say that Britain is worse off than any other country. Indeed, in regards to growing government and the weakening of the family unit, Britain is pretty much on par with the rest of the West.

This brings us to our second point: the state.

It can be argued that the state would have no power if it weren’t for those in it. So while Britain's welfare state may be contributing to less-than-desirable conditions, it's only because the people have empowered it to do so.

Now we are brought to what many believe is the real problem.

“There has been an unholy alliance between those on the left, who believe that man is endowed with rights but no duties, and libertarians on the right, who believe that consumer choice is the answer to all social questions,” Dalrymple writes.

What happens when you marry these two mindsets? People will eventually believe that they have a right to do whatever they, whenever they want, because “everything is merely a matter of choice.”

And that's where a possible breakdown in the family unit would occur. "I do what I want" and "I've earned it" are not exactly the best sentiments to have if, you know, you're procreating.

So what's to be done? Simply put, to address the problems being exacerbated by the state, one must address the problems in the culture.

It's not so much that man’s pursuit of wants, reinforced by an accommodating state, has, in the case of Britain, resulted in "divorce [being] the norm” and a 40 percent out-of-wedlock birthrate -- it's that people won't identify these things as strains on society (because to so would challenge "personal choice").

Until societies are willing and able to identify said strains, to explore why Britons ages 18-30 are engaging in expensive and destructive behavior, to discourage what have proven to be harmful, licentious, and self-centered lifestyles and encourage more meaningful, healthier, and economically minded ones, things like binge drinking epidemics will become the norm.

But who wants to do that? After all, it's much easier to address society's problems with new taxes and government programs.

And Lord knows you can never have too many government programs.

“Ultimately the moral cowardice of the intellectual and political elites is responsible for the continuing social disaster that has overtaken Britain,” Dalrymple's writes in his 2004 essay.

“A sharp economic downturn would expose how far the policies of successive governments...have atomized British society, so that all social solidarity within families and communities, so protective in times of hardship, has been destroyed,” the essay adds.

This story has been updated.

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