|Intrepid Alcohol Researcher learn about the Party
John Holmes the neo-puritan who runs the Alcohol Research Group at the University of Sheffield has stepped away from his usual reliance on using computer modelling as his source or evidence to look at actual human behaviour. And our intrepid researcher approaches this study with the arrogance of a 1950s social anthropologist describing the marriage practice of some previously unknown jungle tribe.
However, we also see occasions that are commonplace but attract less attention from policy makers and public health advocates. For example, 14% of drinking occasions involved domestic gatherings of family and friends, perhaps at house parties and dinner parties or to watch the football. On average people drank the equivalent of a bottle of wine or four pints of beer on these occasions and, in many cases, they consumed more than this. Yet such occasions are rarely discussed when identifying the kinds of drinking problems that need to be tackled.
The discovery that people have parties must have been pretty shocking really. Who knew? And what a delightfully neo-puritan statement concludes Holmes' discovery of the party - "...identifying the kinds of drinking problems that need to be tackled". You and your friends and family chilling round a barbeque (assuming we actually get some sunshine), celebrating a new job or maybe just getting together to share a drink and have a laugh - these events, my friends, are "drinking problems that need to be tackled".
Holmes goes on to fret a little more. You see the neo-puritan fussbuckets at Sheffield have been the main advocates of minimum unit pricing as a means of stopping people (in particular poor people) from drinking. This advocacy was almost entirely based on the torturing of Holmes' computer model plus some very creative interpretations of price elasticity. At no point did the Sheffield researchers ever consider actual drinking behaviour by real people. And now, having seen how real people consume alcohol, the conclusion is that something else must be done to stop all this partying, pleasure and drunkenness:
Introducing a minimum price for alcohol and providing drinking guidelines for those deemed lower risk might reduce habitual alcohol consumption, but these policies might do less to tackle heavy drinking where getting intoxicated and letting the hair down is the main motivation and where the location, company and timing are all conducive to sidelining concerns about price and long-term health.
You see the problem don't you. When we get in a few bottles, cook up a big chilli and invite folk round to celebrate a new job, a big win or a graduation, we're not thinking about our health or how much all that lovely booze is costing. We're just planning on having a damned good night and waking up in the morning with a hangover. This is, of course, exactly how parties work - unless of course, you're working in an Alcohol Research Group where, presumably, celebrations are more muted featuring only tap water and decaffeinated coffee.
The sad thing is that, now these researchers have discovered that people like to have a drink at parties, they'll be working overtime to develop 'strategies' intended to stop this happening. We'll get the usual finger wagging fussbucketry - ad bans, turgid lectures about drink, more licensing restrictions - and to this will be added new wheezes like limiting how much booze you can buy at a time. Of course what these neo-puritans actually want is prohibition and they plan on introducing it by stealth.