Why Do We Binge On Alcohol?

So the party season is over and at least three people I know are detoxing – three and a half including myself. Others have looked January in the face and chosen to drink straight through, come out conscious in spring, and then get pissed to celebrate. Yes, I’m talking about binge drinking, our favourite pastime; the truthful answer to that job interview question: ‘So what do you do outside of work?’

Last year, over a million people in the UK were admitted to hospital because of booze and the growing phenomenon is predicted to cost the NHS £3.8 billion per year by 2015. Meanwhile, the capital is where the problem is rising fastest: hospital admittances related to binge drinking in London jumped 14 per cent last year.

Based on my own life I’d say that people in their mid/late 20’s in London drink a savage amount. This is not meant as a judgment; just an observation. I recently found myself shutting my eyes for a micro-nap on a club toilet seat; I love binge drinking. But I am worried about my health in the long term, and I can’t afford to spend £400-plus per month at the pub. I often feel very jaded afterwards and sometimes during – as I lift another rum and coke to my mouth, I find myself thinking, how many times have I done this?

There is a dichotomy between public condemnation of binge drinking and widespread acceptance of it. We’ve completely disassociated ourselves (necking 12 drinks on a Friday) from the realities (heightened chances of mouth, throat, neck and breast cancer, brain damage, liver cirrhosis and high blood pressure).

So why do we do it? In London at least, stress seems like a huge factor. But in the name of Socrates, who used to go around Athens asking people why they did things that were considered totally ‘normal’ – to see if they were examining their choices in life – I asked some friends. Here are some of the answers I got…

’80 per cent habit, 20 per cent hoping something fun will happen.’

‘To take the backpack of life off. To put a barrier between myself and my day.’

‘To completely forget about my life. It is quite fun though, isn’t it? I’d rather get obliterated and have a laugh.’

So while politicians quibble about the price of alcohol and the Daily Mail highlights the horrors of it, wouldn’t it be better if we spent some time considering why we do it? It’s such a huge component of our culture now that it won’t be changed by scare tactics or piecemeal legislation. From the answers my friends gave I’d say we’re driven partly by a desire for escapism and fun, and partly by habit. If we really wanted to cut down binge drinking we should start with two questions: what can we replace it with in part that will meet those desires? And what might be improved in our lives to lessen our need to escape them?

Image by calispera courtesy of Flickr

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