Drunkards: The Great British Drinking Culture

Earlier this month, quite shocking information was revealed about under age drinking. Over the past year, more than 6,500 children under 18 were admitted to A&E with alcohol related illness. Around 300 of those included in this figure were under 11; these children are still in primary school. Personally, I find it quite disturbing that people half my age are overindulging in something they shouldn’t really be coming into contact with.

So what happened? When I was 11, I only knew little about alcohol. I was much more interested in things like Pokémon and wanting to be become the Doctor. To be fair, I’m still interested in those things but that’s just a reflection of my maturity. Back on topic, they’re somehow getting access to alcohol, and enough of it to cause themselves injury. There’s no way that they could have bought alcohol, so they must have either got it from friends or, more worryingly, their parents. Peer pressure is a leading cause of under age drinking and sometimes it’s the parents, either deliberately or accidentally, that make access to alcohol so easy. The need to fit in is part of growing up and, it appears, that drinking is also.

Sure, it’s understandable that people under the legal age may dabble in drinking. Having a sip of wine at a family wedding or a half-pint of lager at a pub meal isn’t a crime. My parents thought that if they introduced me to alcohol gradually so by the time I could legally buy my own drink, I’d be sensible enough to know my limits. Drinking in the confines of your own home is legal from the age of 5 if an adult supervises you. It’s when the adults go or the drinking leaves the house when problems arise and that’s when the dangers of drinking are fully realised.

Although underage drinking isn’t necessarily encouraged, it’s accepted as part of the UK’s notorious drinking culture. It’s not uncommon to see or hear about 16/17 year olds heading out and drinking at clubs and bars. This kind of activity has been normalised, to some extent at least, by the population’s acceptance of it. Drinking is what people of all shapes age, shapes and sizes do and that’s the end of that.

Although our legal drinking age is no less than the average across Europe, this drinking culture seems exclusive to our nation. Germany has its beer fests and France has acres of vineyards and stacks of fine wine. It seems that Britain just pulled the short straw and ended up with teenage drunkards. Of course, the country isn’t plagued with endless swarms of drunken teens. We have our good old fashioned country pubs and our high-class bars, where there is just as much alcohol but nothing to be ashamed of. However, shows like Bouncers and 24 Hours in A&E are stripping away the varnish of drinking and showing it as it really is. Messy.

Professor Sir Ian Gilmore, Chairman of the UK Alcohol Health Alliance, noted that “In under-11s, it’s mainly experimenting, but I think we see children in the 11 to 16- year-old range who are beginning to drink regularly.” Statistics show that 1 in 4 under age drinkers consume more than 15 units (roughly 7 pints of cider) a week. He also said that there is an alarming rise in the number of liver cirrhosis cases in people in their 20s. This disease is commonly attributed to those in their mid-40s.

Despite all this, there is a silver lining, if it can be called that. Although 1 in 10 children under the age of 11 have drank in the last week, this is half what it was 10 years ago. It’s difficult to decide the best way to process this information. On one hand, it’s good that things are taking a step in the right direction. Then again, this is still a very high number and how is it that twice that number were drinking at the turn of the millennium?
So, underage people are drinking. Is it that big a problem? It’s only natural to experiment with drinking when you’re growing up; it’s part of the teenage experience. However, it seems that these worrying figures are just a reflection of our attitude towards drinking on the whole and are a symptom of the culture we have readily accepted. In the last year, there were more than 1 million alcohol related admissions to hospital, costing around £3.5 billion. That’s a lot of money that could be better spent elsewhere.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that prohibition is the way forward (it didn’t work in the 1920s) and that we should all become tee-total. I enjoy a drink as much as the next student and I do sometimes get too drunk for my own good. It’s fine to indulge but, sometimes, moderation is key. There is a legal drinking age for a reason. I’m 20 and I’m just still not the most sensible around drinking. How would an 11,15, or even 17 year old know their limits if mature adults are still struggling with it?

What do you think? Do we drink too much or is it just the way we are?