Keeping Us Down: The Dark Side of Drinking Culture

Gemma Hunt

Most newcomers to the UK unfamiliar with the country may make note of a few things. One is the undeniable friendliness of the British people as an overall rule, although particular minorities may not always enjoy such an enthused welcome. A deep-founded love for arts, science and innovation is another, but this often has to be sought out as they become more niches than components of mainstream culture. And despite several pubs closing per week, another aspect of British life – which is often carried overseas in the acts of ex-pats as well as at home – is the heavy drinking culture. While this drinking culture is “disapproved” of to a certain degree and taking its toll on the NHS, it is a culture which enables the elite to assign particular stereotypes to the public. Ironically, addictions such as smoking continue to be increasingly demonized while alcoholism is virtually promoted.[I]

By no means is this stating that smoking is not a harmful action. Tobacco is now well-known for its harmful properties, particularly when mingled with toxic chemicals in the guise of cigarettes.[ii] But many individuals also question why alcohol – even more harmful, in some contexts – continues to be promoted on such a large commercial scale, whether it is through the sponsorship of huge sports events or other high-profile marketing schemes. Drinking in itself is not a traditional pastime which the country needs to do away with completely, but health stats – especially related to binge drinking – have revealed some troubling numbers.[iii]

Facing Stereotypes

There is no denying that Britain has a troubling drinking culture. Being able to “put away” the pints is considered a rite of passage for many youths and the measure of one’s substance, while irresponsible behaviour which is alcohol-related is more often celebrated humorously than criticised. Antisocial behaviour which arises from this is prevalent. Yet politicians are seemingly eager to take this common occurrence and use it as a sweeping generalization of the entire population, with the “beer and bingo” making huge controversy last year when a Tory minister believed he was summing up the core of working class pastimes.[iv]

This is a culture which is perpetuated by the increasingly troubling “scapegoat” voices of the UK. While people from a wide range of demographics drink healthy and unhealthy levels of alcohol, it is minorities, the working class and the unemployed who face the greatest scrutiny and discrimination not only by politicians but by people who are not so far removed from being in that position themselves. The unemployed who “should be able to get a job without a problem, instead of drinking cider and living off the state” is a popular trope which finds its way into the top stories of tabloids and in popular reality TV shows. And because the mainstream public needs a target with which to direct their anger in times of austerity, these people are chosen to “represent” different demographics and are virtually eaten alive by those who watch the programs simply to enrage themselves. By all accounts, the media feeding these stereotypes function in favour of a Government which does not wish to become a target and answer for its mistakes. Alcohol is but one of many useful propaganda tools.

No Solid Solutions

As for the working people who drink, there is a strong culture which is appropriated, and making alcohol more expensive, as some politicians have proposed, is not going to remedy it. People are lured into a social environment where hangovers and excessive drinking are points of pride, making alcoholism an even more difficult challenge for some to isolate and respond to. And for those who are making legitimate efforts to combat their addiction, they still face the stigma and discrimination of being social outcasts, as if their addiction is a moral failing and their presence suddenly becomes shameful. This increases feelings of guilt and shame already prevalent in the addict, driving them back to coping methods which often involve their addiction. Cuts are constantly being made to rehabilitation programs, and rather than being met with compassion and the right resources to help people, instead addiction is a social evil to be scorned despite funding and promoting the very environment which encourages it. And for those in prison who are especially vulnerable, the attitude that inmates are undeserving of rehabilitation prevails and seemingly “justifies” some of these cuts.[v] Addicts are fortunately able to access other resources via the web and private treatment,[vi] but for those who are unable to find these resources and are left vulnerable – as well as without the support of loved ones – the struggle can become insurmountable.

Like those who are unable to find employment or make the basic cost of living on what little wages they do earn, the Government approaches people who are suffering from addiction in the same way – an inconvenience worthy of punishment, which usually takes the form of administrative fright tactics (taking away benefits) and neglect. At the same time, the very culture which leads to this exists at every turn, whether it is popular culture, college and university life, and adulthood.[vii] Britain’s drinking culture – often humorously alluded to – is exactly what some politicians want to maintain their preconceptions about the public and justify their patronising attitudes towards it.

[i] “Drafting A Smoking In Cars Consultation Response”. Accessed 9 February, 2015.

[ii] “Statistics on Smoking”. Accessed 9 February, 2015.

[iii] “Statistics on Alcohol – England, 2014; Additional Tables [NS]”. Accessed 9 February, 2015.

[iv] “Row over Tory ‘beer and bingo’ Budget advert”. Accessed 9 February, 2015.

[v] “Prison failures: Cost-cutting has compromised safety and rehabilitation”. Accessed 9 February, 2015.

[vi] “Relapse Prevention Strategies”. Accessed 9 February, 2015.

[vii] “Britain’s Drinking Culture Shows It’s Not Always Happy Hour”. Accessed 9 February, 2015.


  1. The “undeniable friendliness of the British”.

    And a “deep founded love of the arts, science and innovation”.

    Well I certainly hope that is true of Britain.

    Best to leave the comment there.

  2. A society distracted by hedonism and drunkenness, or any drugs, are surely easier to control?

    That may be one reason why it is left alone so much, other than the reaction those who partake in it would give to any government that took serious measures to stop it. Smoking is not really a hedonistic culture, but escapism through binge drinking is more indicative of one.

    I suspect there has always been a drinking culture, ever since it was possible to do so by our ancient ancestors. However, I do find today’s binge-drinking culture a big embarrassment and a stain on England, making poor representatives of our people and our nation – particularly when it is carried abroad to Ibiza and elsewhere.

    I am sure we have all seen the newspaper articles of drunk women with their kickers around their ankles, or laying unconscious on the nearest flower bed, men fighting over taxi queues, with sick and fast food litter flowing down the pavements, public urinating in shop doorways etc.

    When this is carried abroad, it seems even worse. Loud, obnoxious behaviour; disrespect of the local people and their country… no wonder we can be hated around the world. These morons are acting like we still believe we own it and can do whatever we want.

    I think these kinds of situations are different to a general “drinking culture” of the “beer and bingo” variety and the kind of society I believe existed prior to the late 1960s. Working Man’s Clubs, public houses, set opening and closing times, going to the pub to have a few beers and socialise as a town, as a community, to discuss matters of the day if people felt like it.

    Sure, there may well have been some fights and rowdy behaviour – a bit of light-hearted high-jinx whilst avoiding the beat officer on patrol – maybe more ‘wife beating’ and things like that, I don’t know, but I do get the impression that things are out of control and much different now.

    Maybe it is the lack of the old social norms that have led to binge drinking in the first place. Having a few pints a night down the local WMC all week, maybe a swift one on a long lunch break at work, has been replaced by holding off all week and then going crazy at the weekend – particularly students, I suspect, not just the ‘working class’.

    I suppose what they do is up to them, but it is not something I would want to hold up as a defining attribute to the English, well certainly not in the extreme cases we can often see.

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