Binge drinking is Britain's shame

The UK’s binge drinking culture continues into 2005 with no real solution in sight…

It’s 11.05pm on a Friday night in a Surrey High Street and two men, aged about 30, are nose-to-nose screaming obscenities at each other.
The cause of the argument is unclear – one of them maybe brushed against the other at a bar. Or perhaps one saw the other catching a peek at his girlfriend and took exception. Either way, only the arrival of the police breaks up the display of testosterone and after a warning, everyone is on their way.

Similar scenes are replayed across the country every weekend without fail. The link between them is drinking.

Not merely a few relaxing pints after work - but binge drinking until the point of illness, injury or unconsciousness.

According to the national voluntary agency on alcohol misuse Alcohol Concern the cost of alcohol abuse is an estimated £3.3 billion a year in England, earning it the title of ‘Europe’s drinking capital’.

The average British female in her twenties drinks the equivalent of four bottles of wine a week more than her European neighbour.

Statistics show Britons have clocked up more than one million alcohol-related violent incidents, rising 14% in 2004 on the previous year.

The number of violent incidents does little to illustrate the effects on the victims' lives.

Last April, a man was jailed for four-and-a-half years after smashing a pub window in Redhill, partially blinding a customer.

On 4 May, a man was jailed for 21 months after smashing a glass in the face of a teenage girl in a Redhill nightclub.

Both men blamed alcohol for their behaviour.

The situation is spiralling out of control and, with Tony Blair labelling it “Britain’s new disease” - the Home Office is determined to crack down on drinking.

The department has proposed a policy of relaxing licensing laws to create 24-hour opening times in a bid to stop 'rush drinking' before midnight when most bars presently close.

The idea has sparked a countrywide debate, with opponents arguing such measures would turn a crisis into an epidemic.

Police Constable Cliff Robinson has served 13 years in the East Surrey Division and is well-placed to observe the effects such a policy would have locally.

“Something has to be done, as binge drinking is increasing with youngsters," he says.

"To begin with, people might go overboard with the 24-hour licensing, but once the novelty wears off I would expect an improvement socially.”

PC Robinson adds that staggering closing times should serve to stop drinking crowds spilling out onto the streets at the same time. This, he says, should significantly lessen instances of violence.

Local drinkers have their own ideas on how to curb alcohol-related trouble in the area.

Reigate resident Shawn Bishop, 20, suggests lowering the appeal of alcohol for young drinkers by allowing them to purchase it legally.

“Alcohol is a taboo until you are 15 or 16. Because it’s treated this way it becomes an illicit thrill. I would lower the drinking age,” he says.

"What is needed is a clear-cut strategy to counter the problem before future generations add to Britain's embarrasing binge drinking culture."