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Thursday, 13 December, 2007: Boozenight

  • Newsnight
  • 13 Dec 07, 05:28 PM

We're devoting almost all our programme tonight to Boozenight.

booze_203_100.jpgThis is not an attempt to put you off your Christmas cheer. Most of us in the Newsnight office like a glass or two. Or three. Or more. And that's where the problem comes.

Many of us have been shocked how our own drinking consumption appears to mount up. Shocked too at the state of our streets on a Friday and Saturday night.

And surprised at the findings of our opinion poll, specially commissioned for the programme, which demonstrates clearly that as a nation we are worried about booze - indeed we think it more harmful to our society than heroin or cocaine, and a majority of us want the drinking age raised to 21.

It's all very interesting, provocative and disturbing, and it kicks off with the award winning film maker Paul Watson going back to the four alcoholics he filmed seeking treatment in hospital. What has happened to them in their difficult journey - they hoped - towards sobriety?

All week we've been debating many of the issues concerning the country over alcohol - click here to join those debates or leave your comments below.

Comments  Post your comment


We are born with an unfinished brain and zero intellect with which to complete it. Small wonder it goes on to hurt a lot of the time and that, long ago, we found ways of turning it off through “substance use/abuse”. Progressively, through agriculture, industry, world war, frantic commerce and puerile “entertainment”, we have made a life so painful that only a very large dose of our drug-of-choice will do. We have also “progressed” from a system of kinship and leadership that had some chance of success, to the present one, where one vacuous delusional can rise to almost unrestrained power over many millions, with a hoard of lesser devils dancing attendance. On the way to today, we created a swathe of ruinous religions that serve, further, to demonstrate the mess we make of building a competent brain as a newborn. Paradox: the least emotionally competent find it hardest to admit personal incapacity, hence they strive hardest for a compensatory position of status. We are now a society of the immature, with no hope of stable, competent lives let alone lives un-propped by alcohol etc. Government comprised of the least able can’t deal with this. It seems to me that only some deliberate, benignly subversive effort to elevate the competence of the very young, hidden under the noses of the vested interest status-quo brigade (like the Resistance subverting the Nazis) can stand any chance of success. My idea is on my website under: “Visonary Stuff” (relax its irony). Come on all you smart NN devotees – you have nothing to lose but your friends.

Raising the drinking age to 21 is a ludicrous and unworkable idea. As usual, it is accommodating for the lowest common denominator. It would do nothing more than criminalize a large number of young people, including university students. We can trust them to vote and fly an aeroplane but not handle alcohol?

The argument is made by middle aged people who most likely drink too much themselves. Other countries have a low drinking age and cheaper alcohol, and less of a problem. Surely that should be saying something.

Young people will always booze too much as it is part of growing up in our society and always has been.
Unless we get rid of the pub culture that is all over nortthern Europe we will always have young binge drinkers.
You cannot blame pubs for offering promotions to sell alcohol as that is how they profit and keep going.
New laws will change nothing at all.

  • 4.
  • At 10:36 PM on 13 Dec 2007,
  • sameer wrote:

The main problem we face is that drinking is part of our culture at the most minuscule level.
I was out last saturday, not on a drink fuelled evening in a club, but just a quiet sociable drink. A young man with us didnt really fancy a drink, but constant comments and comments such as "dont be so shy" led him to finally give in. He still manage to miss a few, but he was just as happy not to. Most people on this quiet sociable night had at least 8-10 strong drinks.
I personally have faced nights out when the only conversation people can have is "Why arent you drinking". People are generally unhappy if someone is not drinking with them.

Cultural change can come with Education, and a real change in attitudes. But measures such as raising prices considerable and increasing the age limit" will contribute to reducing demand and starting people to think about the rights and wrongs of excessive alcohol consumption.

Just reading the comments on this site, arguments are generally in favour of alcohol as a matter of personal freedom. But while we protect out individualism it has a collective influence on our culture. So its right that the government takes the lead.

But I wont hold my breath as I dont think any government will be brave enough

  • 5.
  • At 10:50 PM on 13 Dec 2007,
  • Stefania Ciocia wrote:

Raising the drinking age to 21 will only make matters worse, by glamourizing alcohol even further. I grew up in Italy, where drinking is part of enjoying food and entertaining. Parents might let young kids try a bit of wine in water for a special occasion. Drinking is not such a big deal - certainly not a rite of passage. We need to change the drinking culture in the UK, not make new laws.

  • 6.
  • At 10:57 PM on 13 Dec 2007,
  • jay Hopkins wrote:

Make it more of a local isue with regard to crime/booze related tax..
Every whare in the local authority that sells booze pays a persentage on top of the buissness tax to support and pay for policeing, if the booze related crime rates go down and so does the tax if crime goes up so does the tax in every bar,club,supermarket,hote,corner shop...

  • 7.
  • At 10:58 PM on 13 Dec 2007,
  • Paul wrote:

The initial film on newsnight about these alcoholic individuals was very absorbing and felt very real and shocking.

As for raising the age to 21 it is a ludicrous and simple oversimplification. I lived in York that tried to emulate a no under 21 drinking policy and the licencing officer for the city felt so smug about it working that the city went round giving out licences willy-nilly all over the place and per square mile there were a great many places where one could buy or drink alcohol. This in itself caused problems. People are in denial that far too many small corners shops and supermarkets sell alcohol.

  • 8.
  • At 10:59 PM on 13 Dec 2007,
  • David K. wrote:

Why 21? Why not 31?

  • 9.
  • At 11:03 PM on 13 Dec 2007,
  • Richard Meiklejohn wrote:

During the 90's we had ecstacsy - young people were out of town centres at dance raves and everyone was drinking water and no one was fighting or dropping down dead. The drinks industry helped to push government into destroying that culture using such measures as the criminal justice act. Young people were forced back into town centre clubs that mimicked the rave warehouses and the industry launched cheap palatable sweet surgary alcohol laden fizzy drinks that were fast acting could be consumed easily. The results are a nation of young people who now go out with the mission to get as drunk as possible as quick as possible and we see the results every weekend. p.s. I was not an ecstacy user.

  • 10.
  • At 11:18 PM on 13 Dec 2007,
  • s.h wrote:

What about the discounted alcohol available to students starting university. Freshers week - spirits pushed at students, and very low price drinks available in student bars - eg £1.40 /pint.
Sadly our " intelligent" 18 - 19yr olds starting at university are alcohol dependent in the first term.....there is so much peer pressure to binge drink. You have to be very confident to say 'I've had enough".
Surely the drinks industry who sponsor these alcohol binges should pay something towards their subsequent consequences - police, nhs.....

  • 11.
  • At 11:20 PM on 13 Dec 2007,
  • Clair Martin wrote:

I am a thirty one year old Alcoholic. I have been sober for just over two years now, after spending three months in a rehabilitation center that saved my life. I feel that there is not one area to blame (pubs, cheap booze, licensing hours etc.) What I feel that is called for is a change in attitude in society, teaching children and offering help to those to those who need it before it becomes a last resort. In my case, I was an extemely unhappy, disfunctional and lost young girl and I drank to get wasted from the age of thirteen. I was an alcoholic long before I knew it and long before anyone else knew it. Alcoholism is an illness. to be an alcoholic is not only connected to how much you drink, but also how it affects your life. Being an alcy has been a living hell and now that without the help I recieved I would be dead or in prison. This debate has no certainties, but I believe that more research should be done into this debilitating illness. There is light at the end of the tunnell though, for the very lucky few (of which I am one) who recieve the help they need. I have a daughter and as she approaches her teenage years, I am trying to teach her to have a healthy respect for this drug, neither to fear it nor to be complacent about it. Everyone should be made more realistically aware of what this illness is about and it is not just cheap booze. Thanks for reading, hope I made sense.

  • 12.
  • At 11:22 PM on 13 Dec 2007,
  • steve ancliffe wrote:

My home town of Halifax in Yorkshire closed it's one and only cinema and turned it into another club. This makes me wonder if local councils have a responsibility in making a good balance for young people to have an option of he social life they lead. If you know Halifax, it has many pubs and clubs with coach trips coming into the town from all over the north just to booze. The last thing it needs is another club.
If local councils set the example by limiting licenses and allowing other forms of entertainment more of a chance to exist we may have a chance to give young people the change they deserve.

  • 13.
  • At 11:22 PM on 13 Dec 2007,
  • Aloh Oloh wrote:

How much tax is collected by the government from Alcohol per year?

How is this split between

Education to prevent over consumption
Contribution to health care for chronic disease prevention and treatment
Contribution to police for administration of disorderly behavior
Local authorities for repair of damage from drunken rampages

Government parties?

Is this not a push to justify further increases in tax on Alcohol before next years budget??

  • 14.
  • At 11:23 PM on 13 Dec 2007,
  • Chris Snowdon wrote:

How quickly we have forgotten about the 24 hour drinking bill which so many people guaranteed would lead to drunken anarchy? Now we are told it is the supermarkets that are the problem and that we are doomed because ASDA are selling weak lager for 22p a can.
The Chief of Cheshire Police became involved with this after his force failed to prevent a man being beaten to death by drunken thugs. All but one were under 18. Alcohol sales to minors is already illegal - as is murder. I suggest he starts enforcing the laws that already exist rather than calling on yet more legislation that can only penalise the law-abiding.

  • 15.
  • At 11:24 PM on 13 Dec 2007,
  • Heather wrote:

On the subject of binge drinking - first look at how the younger people drink - meet up to get ready and sink a few before they go out or youngsters on the streets, the most popular tipples are cheap lager, cheap white cider and cheap labeled vodka or wine. All these been available through supermarkets and off licences but not in pubs.

The smoking ban has now put more people outside drinking and that is not just the smokers but includes their non-smoking friends. That makes it very difficult to monitor and has encouraged people to take their own cheap drink to public places where they buy a coke and the vodka appears from out of handbags ect.

  • 16.
  • At 11:33 PM on 13 Dec 2007,
  • jen wrote:

My partner who is in his 20's had been drinking for around 8 years which started at university! He was drinking very heavily up to 7 bottles of wine or 5-6 3 litres bottles of white cider + times of other substances - cross addiction- I'm surprised he has no long term health problems!
But there needs to be more access to help as we have tried the local alcohol places and they are pathetic, and make you attend numberous sessions when you are still drinking then it all takes time for things to be sorted.
Private clinics and money (debt) are the only answer in my view to alcoholics! So do not become one as if you can not access private healthcare and are not lucky enough to get things sorted out with the alcohol service in time and with adequate care then you will be dead!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • 17.
  • At 11:37 PM on 13 Dec 2007,
  • Patricia wrote:

When comparing different countries and their drinking cultures why not look at northern european cultures instead of always looking to the south? Norway, Finland; what are their laws on alcohol?
The comment of the minister for health that drug rehabilitation was regarded as more important than alcohol because of the direct link with crime was disingenuous, to say the least.
Violent crimes, car crashes, death on the roads, are these not alcohol related crimes? To go further look at violent abuse in the home which is common throughout the spectrum of our society and is frequently alcohol fuelled.
Kneejerk reactions are not called for, he said, it's not a kneejerk reaction when the problem has been escalating for years; the damage is extending into younger age groups and the figures are mind boggling. Thirty billion in profits for the drinks industry versus twenty billion paid out for the clean up. One in ten of the population are believed to have a serious problem with alcohol which is roughly six million people in the country. Knee jerk reaction is not the description that I'd use; more accurate would be an urgently needed plan of action, beginning with funding for education on alcohol consumption, more rehabilitation and an urgent review into the supermarket pricing of alcohol.

  • 18.
  • At 11:39 PM on 13 Dec 2007,
  • Martin Spurin wrote:

Watching the discussion this evening has left me shocked at what appears to be a collection of over-dramatisation and over reactions as well as the point being missed.

Yes, there is a problem with behaviour of some people heavily under the influence of alcohol; yes there is a risk of alcoholism and yes alcohol can have adverse health affects.

But, alcohol, in any quantity does not cause well behaved, sensible people to become the trouble causing, law breaking louts that are the problem often referred to. I am a student and many of the people i know regularly get extremely drunk, but they don't cause anyone any problems when they do. The problem isn't the alcohol, it is what the alcohol reveals. Furthermore people can become addicted to anything from food to shopping and it would appear that almost all foodstuffs are linked to a major disease.

I would suggest that criminalising or restricting sensible 18-20 year olds because of the actions of those who don't know how to act and/or don't have the common sense to not let alcohol affect their health is not the right course of action. Rather, we should impose stronger punishments for the offences in question and educate people about the possible dangers of alcoholism and health problems as well as providing better support for those who have already become alcoholics.

  • 19.
  • At 11:44 PM on 13 Dec 2007,
  • peter wrote:

only aa has kept me out of prison, mental hospital or death. I was on a desperate road to destruction- lost family a very good business my house etc... oh the stories many extremes. I finally gave in. yes alcohol wrecked my life but 2 years sober its amazing how no matter how low you drop life gives you a second chance. some of us are just alcoholics we were born that way.

  • 20.
  • At 11:58 PM on 13 Dec 2007,
  • Jane.A.Cooper wrote:

As a member of AA for 21 years I have sadly seen many examples of substance abuse, mainly alcohol. I am one of the lucky ones, I'm still alive and sober without any drug for the past 21 years, acutally on 10th December.
I work in a voluntary capacity (as well as full-time job as an artist) doing Public Information for Alcoholics Anonymous as a representative in the local area, (this is a new system devised by AA)where I live near Hampton Wick; I have taken it upon myself to deliver information to Police Stations, Hospitals and other places, too numerous to mention, to try and raise public awareness to the drink crisis facing our hospitals and which runs through every level of society; wrecking social structures in our lives and causing havoc everywhere. We have had 5 new problem drinkers through our doors in the past 3 weeks, but I am not able to monitor the other meetings.Time is limited. Having been through the problem myself I know that the problem drinker will not stop drinking until they see the light; and want to stop drinking. Also a surprising amount of people within institutions have not heard of Alcoholics Anonymous,obviously we do not advertise as in mainstream fashion, but place discreet notices in public places etc. Police Stations and Hospitals were very gratefull to receive small cards which can be handed out to drinkers with problems, which can at least sow the seed as such. The problem has increased we feel, to the rising number of population, access to cheaper and stronger alcohol, prologed opening hours for pubs etc; plus it is often coupled by drug-users as the safe alternative to cocaine etc, which in fact it isn't, as the doctor so wisely said tonight, alcohol is a strong and dangerous drug; I myself have known of many deaths due to alcoholism. Plus we have had a sharp rise in drug imports and usage over the past few years. Personally I feel the drinks manufacturers should provide some funding towards treatment centres, as after all, they are reaping the financial benefits of all drinking and alcoholism; knowingly advertising strong drinks to appeal to teenagers etc; they should accept some responsibility; and have some social conscience about it. The NHS is constantly mopping up, at the last rough survey I carried out, 30/40 drunken people attending A&E at Kingston Hospital on the weekends; blocking valueable time needed for other emergencies; and 30/40 on the spot fines issued by the Police from Twickenham Police Station over each weekend; I asked the Police and the A&E staff personally; in order to establish how many AA cards they need each week, this information is provided free by AA and also my time organizing it.Government needs to apply laws increasing prices and lowering the alcohol content soon. But it is no use just having a blitz at Xmas, it has to be a concerted major effort from entire society all year round. Thankyou for exposing the problem on Newsnight, more programmes of this ilke are needed instead of booze culture type programming.
many thanks Jane.A.Cooper

  • 21.
  • At 12:21 AM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • Patricia Scott wrote:

My friend offered to buy me a drink tonight in the pub. Knowing he is a bit strapped for cash I ended up opting for a half of Guinness instead of my first choice, a glass of cola. The cola cost 25p more. £1.85!!! I have often found this to be the case when requesting non-alcoholic drinks in the pub. Doesn't exactly encourage you to forego alcohol when the soft drink alternatives are so expensive.

  • 22.
  • At 01:10 AM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • nick ruddock wrote:

I realise I'm not politically correct, nor naive, gullible, foolishly conned by all the well meaning 'god-bothering' heart-tearing prosletysers for mankind. But I'm sick of a world, society governed by the demands of the lowest common denominator, which is how I see the endless plucking of our compassion to give recidivist alcoholics, drug abusers and junkies, more and more facilities. The destruction which these people wreck havoc of other peoples lives in their own friends and family groups has also been endlessly documented. Why not try another track; let them go to their own destruction in their own way; stop wasting resources on groups who perpetually add to their destruction. Let it be known; private groups and individuals can spend time and money, as is their wish, but no public money should be wasted again! Whatever documentary prize the film-maker earns for his skill, it falsely tugs at our sentiment.

  • 23.
  • At 04:57 AM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • richard wrote:

Generally speaking, I was disappointed with the programme.

The harrowing documentary at the start didn't add anything to the matter in hand at all.

Then to have a group of wooden figures sitting around a table, taking it in turns to speak, was far from satisfactory. Competent I'm sure they were and genuinely concerned. But there were too many "I think ..." "I don't think ..." "in my opinion ..." etc.

I think your focus on the issue in hand was wrong.

  • 24.
  • At 08:25 AM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • Chris Hackley wrote:

I was invited on to the studio panel on Wednesday and had some lengthy interviews with Newsnight researchers on Thursday but by teatime I found out that I was not required. This was a bit frustrating. This is the main personal view I would like to have offered.

The alcohol condition in the UK is distinctive in the sweeping and complex youth-orientation of drinking we have seen since the 1980s.
The alcohol brand marketing industry is deeply implicated in this change. To its credit, the industry seems to be aware that if it isnt seen to be doing something to change the pattern of young people's drinking then pressure from the health lobbies will result in poorly thought-through and largely ineffectual measures being imposed by government. Blanket advertising bans or changes to drinking law might have some effect on drinking patterns and health statistics at the margins, but at huge economic cost to the media industry and nighttime economy. At worst, such measures might only work by displacing alcohol with other forms of addiction.

The trick the alcohol industry needs to pull off is that it must use some of its marketing smarts to change the patterns of young people's drinking while maintaining its value to its shareholders and other stakeholders. By changing the patterns I mean reducing the amount of high proof alcohol drinks consumed over short time periods, and raising consciousness of damage limitation through eating properly, exercising, not smoking and drinking lower alcohol content products.

It may be too deep a contradiction to try to solve the problem by using the very marketing techniques which caused it. But this is the only viable route for the industry and success wont be achieved in my opinion by the current advertising campaign. Worthy though such campaigns may be, for many young people they do not have anything like the resonance of the alcohol brand advertising and promotion they are supposed to counter.

This isnt just about advertising and branding. The alcohol industry spends over 200 million pounds per year on non-advertising promotion, most of which is targeted at young drinkers: websites, point-of-sale and sponsorship are powerful branding devices in the 'new' marketing scene. Of course, telling an ad agency to build a lifestyle appeal around an alcohol brand is an easier brief than getting it to moderate youthful excess. Difficult though this is, I think itis a task the alcohol industry needs to take much more seriously.

The health lobbyists, for all their moral authority, tend to oversimplify the issues and the solutions. A much more nuanced approach is needed. Young people know very well that drinking five or ten pints of beer on a Saturday does not in itself ruin one's health. They also know that middle aged professional adults drink regularly in such volumes and most live to be 75.

Alcohol policy debates are littered with redundant ideas like 'the advertising watershed', alcohol 'units' and 'safe' levels of drinking. Unfortunately these concepts have no meaning or relevance for young drinkers, so deep is the social psychology of branded alcohol consumption.

The industry (by which I mean the alcohol brands)has many levels of engagement with policy already but still needs to devote far greater resource and creative ingenuity to its 'social' advertising and marketing to try to change the patterns of young people's drinking. Otherwise well-meaning but naive policy measures could be imposed with potentially damaging implications for the economy, and a limited effect on the long term health of thousands young people.

  • 25.
  • At 11:51 AM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • Jane wrote:

Drink industry manufacturers appear to now be at the mercy of large retailers - a case of the tail wagging the dog. We're told the only proven way to prevent binge drinking, especially amongst the very young is to stop selling such cheap alochol in supermarkets. As for culture, this cannot be changed in a hurry, however we can start to pave the way now to save the future of our grandchildren. After all, a lot can change in 60 years.

  • 26.
  • At 10:43 PM on 14 Dec 2007,
  • Sara wrote:

Another price/tax hike? Whether it works or not there's a benefit for the taxman, so I won't be surprised when it happens. But it won't work.

I'm a teenager, a student in fact. Therefore I am very skint. So when I spend £3 on a drink, I expect more than a nice flavour. I remember buying booze and comparing the percentage to the price to find out whether "I'm getting my money's worth", and if I've spent £30 on a night out and I'm still sober, I feel like I've spent it for nothing.

Not to mention a pint of beer can be cheaper than a pint of cola.

But now we have the attitute, if you suddenly lower the price then people are going to go nuts - it's going to get worse before it gets better. As you can see by the "Drunkard British Tourist" reputation we now have all over Europe.

So what do we do to get out of this rut?

In addition, the 18 rule isn't working to stop 16 year olds getting hold of it; how will the 21 stop, considering the general rule already is "ID if they look under 21"

  • 27.
  • At 07:46 PM on 22 Dec 2007,
  • Denzil wrote:

It's a bit strange that the BBC's flagship news programme decided to pre-book a big booze debate for the historic day when Gordon Brown signed the EU treaty. Perhaps Newsnight had one of those 'unfortunate' diary clashes? ;-)

It wasn't just the BBC that was having a boozenight on that historic day, the EU was also getting out the champagne.

  • 28.
  • At 01:03 AM on 05 Jan 2008,
  • Paul Johnston wrote:

I do not think our culture of drinking will ever change in this country. Drinking to excess is now the norm and indeed is seen by many as the mark of a good night out. Alcohol and the problems it brings are here to stay.

  • 29.
  • At 12:06 AM on 16 Feb 2008,
  • ken bell wrote:

young teen drinking. PART OF THE SOLUTION,is to let the teens in the pub where there will be a least some control.closing down working mens clubs has been a disater,ok some are not viable but if they closed everything in the country not viable they wouldnt be a theatre left own club had football teams,snooker bowls, rock groups ,etc. its now a pile of rubble.have a guess where the kids are?they should be sat in the club with there dad/grandad with some control. politicians need to have another look .

  • 30.
  • At 11:17 PM on 03 Mar 2008,
  • Harry wrote:

Increasing the tax on alcohol is not the answer to binge-drinking. Very many of those who engage in it live cheaply with their parents and so can most easily afford to spend their disposable income on booze. Higher taxes will not stop their big nights out but will hit the vast majority of the population who drink sensibly - we already have punitive taxes on alcohol, which are too often regarded by the government as an easy revenue source.

Current regulations should be more strictly enforced and parents should take more responsibility.

  • 31.
  • At 05:33 PM on 30 Mar 2008,
  • Tim Auger wrote:

Booze is now a fashionable subject. Sure the problem may have worsened recently, but what the commentaries don't acknowledge sufficiently is that it's an old problem, deeply rooted in British culture. In all the European countries, only the British look back on the night before and declare with an air of satisfaction,'My god I was so p*ssed.' I'm 60 now and going out to get smashed was the norm 40 years ago. So if the culture is to be changed, all socio-economic groups and all age-groups have to be targeted, not just errant working-class youth.

Drunkenness may be more public now, and may affect younger people more, but the influences behind that can be traced to an older generation.

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