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Is Britain the heaviest drinking nation on the planet?

  Wednesday 7th December 2011

The British have the reputation of being heavy drinkers and partygoers, but is Britain the heaviest drinking nation on the planet or is it a cliché? Let’s find out why British are not the worse alcohol consumers in the world.

Are the British the heaviest drinkers in the world? Picture: Greg Hayes

Alcohol is actually a common term for ethanol, which is a compound produced when glucose is fermented by yeast. The strength of the alcohol, the percentage, is dependant on the amount of yeast in the product and the length of time that it is left to ferment. Alcohol is also actually a drug and can lead to an immediate mood altering effect. The BBC has recently stated that although alcohol can affect people in a negative manor, they also suggest that drinking moderate amount of alcohol can reduce the risk of heart disease.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) controls this drug throughout the world. In the UK, the WHO seems to have taken action by providing taxation on alcohol products to “promote health by controlling availability, influencing price.” It is widely understood that compared to the rest of the EU and also the world, the UK is quite highly taxed up. For on our shores, the VAT applied to alcohol is a massive 17.3 %.

Despite high tax on alcohol products, which could lead in theory to a decrease in alcohol sales and binge drinking on nights out, it doesn’t generate a positive vibe about the UK and its alcohol intake reputation. Articles from the BBC such as “Booze spending top fruit and veg” don’t really help this aspect, as well as TV programmes such as “Boozed up Brits abroad.”

When the BBC reported “Drink and Violence: An English Problem” in 2000, they helpfully concluded that the media simply focus on the badly behaved minority. Yasmin Stone, aged 20, cocktail waitress in Essex, stated on a night out that “everyone in there seemed to be having a really nice night, apart from one boy who was making a fool of himself, I think he had had a little too much to drink.”

And is this true? A recent article in The Telegraph titled “Twelve year olds drinking equivalent to 19 glasses of wine a week.” Saying that the bad press surrounding the British and their drinking habits is purely hearsay should undoubtedly be considered; more time should also be taken to consider what the rest of the world is doing.

The British drinking age limit is 18 years, as in most other countries, apart from in the USA where drinking is only allowed at 21. There, the National Minimum Drinking Age – Act 1984 states that although 21 is the common age, it can vary under different circumstances such as “established religious purpose’s” and “private clubs and establishments.” Also, it is a well-known fact that American College students have the reputation of being binge drinkers and one surely doesn’t need any ID to enter into a fraternity party, unlike a party held in Britain where they are very hot on ID.

British government officials recommend that the British should consume no more than two to three units of alcohol for women a day, and three to four units of alcohol for men a day. Each unit of alcohol weighs eight grams.  On the other hand, The US government states that the American public should consume no more than two units a day for both men and women. At first glance this appears to be low, a lot lower than the British allowance. But here is the trick: one unit of alcohol in the USA is actually nearly double the weight of the UK unit, at 14 grams.

Despite this physical allowance actually being greater for women in the States, it should still be suggested that maybe it’s the way we behave whilst drinking which produces the perception Brits are heavy drinkers.

It has hopefully become clear that the suggestion the British are heavier drinkers than the rest of the world is simply pure perception and it is quite obviously something that we want to clear up. In fact, the British government is actioning this change and, along with Enterprise Inn’s who own nearly 9,000 British Pubs, is enlisting a licence reform in order to destroy this perception. It has been decided to stagger closing times of pubs and bars and also for some to stay open later. Licensing manager James Purnell said “the new laws would help combat alcohol related violence which mainly occurs between 1 and 2 am, when everyone is thrown out onto the streets at the same time.” If this works, then our bad reputation should be abolished.

The 2008 World Health Statistics stated that, despite common belief of the ‘British disease’, the United Kingdom is actually near the bottom on the chart when comparing units of alcohol consumed per capita per year. It has been reported that Britain are 8th on the list consuming 11.75 litres. Rated 1st is Luxembourg at 15.56 litres, as despite its tiny size of just 998 square miles in total, it has more than seven active breweries. Another very surprising finding was about Russia: it is a common understanding that Russians love their vodka, however they were rated 9th, below the UK, at just 10.32 litres.

Some would argue that bad behaviour could easily be avoided by a relaxation on licensing laws. I asked Lily Mae Carmen, 21, student, London what she had to drink on Friday night, and was answered: “I had a couple to drinks, around 2-3 double vodka and diet cokes just to take the edge off, then I could let me hair down.” A couple of drinks simply help people to loosen up and can be actually enjoyable. It can be argued that this is similar to the way the French like to relax over a glass of wine, but it just so happens – and this must happen everywhere – that some individuals do take it too far; it is a shame that these are the ones who make themselves noticed.

 Bethany Stone


Top 3 Bars in the UK to spend your pennies at:

Callooh Calay – 65 Rivington Street, Shoreditch London EC

Walkabout – International

Mojo – 18 Merrion Street, Leeds









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