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Public drunkenness is 'cultural identity' in Britain

By JULIAN SHEA in London | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-01-26 09:42

People drink outside a pub, amid the coronavirus disease outbreak, in London on Dec 5, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

British drinkers have been told to "leave their adolescence behind "after a survey of the drinking and drug-taking habits of people in 25 countries revealed that people in England and Scotland get incapacitated because of alcohol more than people from any other country.

The findings come from the Global Drugs Survey, or GDS, carried out between November 2019 and February 2020, which questioned more than 110,000 people.

"British people have never really embraced moderation when it comes to drinking," said Adam Winstock, the chief executive and founder of the GDS. "While many other cultures regard alcohol as an accompaniment to a social event and frown upon public drunkenness, we've often embraced it as a cultural identity… it's like as a country we need to leave our adolescence behind."

Respondents were quizzed on how frequently they had been so drunk that "your physical and mental faculties are impaired to the point where your balance/speech was affected, you were unable to focus clearly on things, and that your conversation and behaviors were very obviously different to people who know you".

On this basis, respondents in England and Scotland said they had been drunk on average more than 33 times in the previous 12 months, compared to a global average of just over 20 times. The UK figures were more than twice those of countries including Italy, Spain, Poland and Germany.

The extent of excessive drinking also puts an increased burden on the National Health Service, with the UK's rate of hospital admissions related to alcohol higher than that of any other substance included in the survey, apart from heroin. "We don't have a culture that is honest about the impact of intoxication," Winstock added.

This is a particular cause for alarm as a separate study by the GDS showed that 48 percent of Britons said they had increased their alcohol intake since the pandemic began, during which time medical resources have been under greater strain than ever.

"There's never been a worse time to drink more," Winstock, an addiction specialist, told the Huffington Post. "We surveyed 50,000 drinkers (worldwide) and it was the same story. People who drank more reported poorer physical health and mental health. It's not a good coping strategy."

Earlier in the pandemic, Winstock had warned that drug users in particular could find the pandemic a "tipping point" in terms of their substance intake.

"Where previously their use of (cannabis) or (cocaine) was once or twice a week, it's now three or four times a week, and when they don't use, they're feeling anxious and miserable," he told the Guardian.

"If you were someone who was verging towards problematic use, you're either going to use the pandemic as an opportunity to reduce use and improve mental health, or your use is going to escalate. And as you run out of your preferred choice of drug, you will look for other drugs to compensate for that."

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