Tag Archives: Alcohol


This week has seen a load of noise about alcohol, and in particular ‘binge drinking’ and teenage drinking. As always, the complicated truth can’t be allowed to get in the way of soundbites and simplistic analysis.

First, there’s the “tipping point” that Jacqui Smith has been touting.  ‘Where more 13 year olds have drunk alcohol than have not’. But what does this mean? For the Daily Mail (but I’ve lost the link!) this meant most 13 year-olds were getting drunk, which is not what the minister said. Most papers stuck to her wording (see this) but this sounds like it means over 50% have had a drink some time in their life, not in the last week, month or year. In fact, saying we have now reached this point is absurd. In 2006, a drinkaware survey found the average age of first drink (not just a sip) was 11, a 2003 survey in Northern Ireland found the average age for the first drink was 11. There’s a big difference between 50% of 13-year-olds getting drunk once a month and 50% having had a couple of drinks with their parents at Christmas.

This, we’ve heard, is justification for a crackdown on a) children drinking in public places, and b) parents buying their kids alcohol. This again is complicated, both with regard to the law and what happens in the real world. It isn’t illegal for kids to drink in public places, but it is illegal for under-18s to buy a drink, or to buy a drink for a child. However, it’s not illegal for a parent to buy a drink for an under-18, and it’s expressly allowed in pubs if you are eating and the child is 16/17. The law seems a bit confused here, but if the parent buys alcohol to send the kids out on the street with, then this may be illegal (I think it is… it’s illegal ‘for anyone to buy alcohol for someone under 18 to consume in a pub or a public place’). If the parent buys alcohol for the child to drink at home, then that’s OK, and if the child then takes it outside then that’s not illegal either! The police can confiscate if they think it’s going to be drunk outside (to avoid public nuisance) but not if the kids are on the way to someone’s house. Either way, no ‘crime’ has been committed.

Furthermore, research suggests that ” ‘Fewer’ teenagers drink regularly” because the crackdown on rogue shops is working, and that parents should be encouraged to give their children alcohol at home because that means less drinking on the street. Children that buy their own booze are far more likely to be binge drinking or street drinking. We should be encouraging a continental approach.

But even this, for me, is problematic. There’s an oft used trope in youth work and youth studies, that tells why the kids on the street and at youth clubs are the poorer kids. Whereas the richer kids have the resources to go to events (e.g. being driven to a sports centre or theatre let’s say) the poorer one’s don’t. Richer kids in big houses have their own rooms so they can invite friends round, and the most priviliged might have a spare room or a converted garage. Poorer kids might be sharing with their little brother or sister, and the smaller space means it’s harder to get out of the way of parents. They don’t have a big dining table so can’t invite friends over for dinner: everyone prefers to drink with friends to their parents. Because of this, richer kids can have their earlier experiments with alcohol at home in safety. Poorer one’s have no opportunities, except in public spaces. To be just, a crackdown on teenage problem drinking should be helping these children into more comfortable homes where there’s opportunity to socially drink with friends (and maybe parents too).


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Filed under News, Politicians, Statistics and simplicity

If only people stayed still

My PC died… so it’s been a while.

The moral panic about bing drinking rumbles on. Yes, people are harming themselves through overdrinking, but this is the same story we had in Hogarth‘s day, and in the late Victorian era, and so on and so on. Anyway, this post is about NHS statistics and regional variation in alcohol-related admissions. According to the Observer, ‘Nine of the 10 areas with the highest rates of emergency admissions are in the north, with Liverpool, Manchester and Middlesbrough in the top five for both men and women’.

At face value, it looks like the people of these cities are more drunk than those of Wokingham. However, there are a number of reasons, some of which can be controlled for, which make this analysis fairly meaningless.

First, and most obviously, there are differences in population. My bet is that it’s your 18-24 or maybe 34 that are more likely to end up in A&E after a night out. So the population of Nottingham are more likely to be part of these statistics than people from Bournemouth. There might be a similar thing with class, although I don’t know which way it would work: one imagines that posh people are less likely to sort things out with fists, but they might also be more likely to fall over, who knows.

Context will also make a difference. Drinking in a place where everyone knows your name (the village pub, the working men’s club) might mean you don’t want to look silly being carried out horizontally. But in my experience there are often fights because people know each other. And then there’s the ‘vertical drinking establishments’ in city centres that are designed to get people to drink loads, with the potential for fights on the lines of ‘did you spill my pint/look at my girlfriend’ etc.

Lastly, though, there’s the issue of people not necessarily drinking / being admitted to A&E where they live. This makes the denominator (bottom part of the fraction) for the statistics more than a tad unreliable. An extreme example is the City of London, that is the financial centre. Few people live there, but loads go there to work. So when you look at crime stats it always comes up really high if you look at crimes per 100,000 residents. The crimes that happen aren’t all happening to the residents, but are reported as such.

For drink-related admissions this could be really quite significant. Places like Liverpool, Manchester and Liverpool are venues for drink-related nights out for young people from further afield. Indeed, Wokingham might have the lowest figures because all its young people go out in London and get admitted to London hospitals, not Wokingham’s. Hen and stag dos will change the way the statistics appear, as people fly in to places like Newcastle, drink and go home.

The biggest influence on this might well be the student population. Depending on how it’s counted a city’s population could be officially much lower than it actually is in term time. Cambridge has a population of 111,000 but has 144,000 registered with the city’s GPs. Many of these are Cambridge Uni and APU students who are there in term-time only… when are they most likely to end up in A&E? At home in the summer, or in term time out of parents’ sight? With population movements like this, especially of the group most likely to end up in hospital, any geographic analysis of alcohol and A&E has a tendency to be meaningless.

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Filed under News, Statistics and simplicity