- Patterns of drinking
- Social and Economic Factors
- Types of drinks commonly consumed
- Profiles of a binge drinker
- Medical and social effects on binge drinking
- Social Effects
- Social acceptability of binge drinking
- List of references
It is prudent to accept that the role of intoxication in the society has considerably shifted and as such the attitudes towards alcohol consumption and its role with respect to the changing landscape of leisure, work and pleasure.
From the eras of carnivalesque excess, to the acceptance of an alcoholic pressure valve to sustain the normal capitalistic week and eventually the integration of alcohol consumption into the post modern capitalist society, binge drinking and controlled alcohol consumption has grown into a marker of group or individual consumer identity on one hand while on the other hand it reflects the broader social, economic and cultural changes that the society has undergone as a whole.
This paper succinctly interweaves such changes in relation to binge drinking in the United Kingdom, alcohol consumption as a leisure industry and the incidence, prevalence and progression of socially tolerated traditional drinking sprees to the post modern sociological phenomena of binge drinking.
By analyzing the complex profiles and patterns of binge drinking across gender lines, social classes and different age group the researcher presents the types of drinks commonly consumed, the social and health outcomes of intoxication and the strategies instituted to confront binge drinking benchmarked upon the levels of social acceptability.
Public concerns over binge drinking have grown into a form of a mild social upheaval in the United Kingdom as well as in other countries in recent times.
The ramifications of binge drinking in the public sphere and the scientifically proven negative health and social outcomes remain the main reasons behind attempts to tame the progression of alcohol consumption to levels where the habit would considerably influence societal health and consequently societal harmony.
This phenomenon of extreme drinking peaks can be marked to late adolescent periods and early adulthood. Despite public abhorrence of this trend, extreme drinking behavior has developed into a form of a culturally appropriate behavior and a sociologically recognized developmental rite of passage in early adulthood (Martinic & Measham 2008).
This sociological phenomenon typically occurs in public places such as bars, pubs, nightclubs and is usually manifested in groups as opposed to individual drinking. This practice transcends both the social class and culture.
In general, the amount of alcohol that is consumed by a single individual in a country sometimes known as per capita consumption has been an accepted measure of the extent of alcohol drinking.
However, per capita consumption as a mode of collecting relevant data is old fashioned and can only be said to be a very crude indicator when it comes to alcohol consumption.
It succeeds in providing general trends of alcohol consumption but fails when it comes to capturing the myriad ways in which persons drink (Stimson et al 2007). In other words it fails to describe drinking in contextual terms. For instance, whereas some individuals engage in rare intoxication, some engage in the pursuit of bouts of heavy intoxication more frequently.
Despite that short coming, per capita consumption hereby referred to as population level measures, provide a very important gross indicator of drinking. The per capita consumption of alcohol in England has risen from seven years where it had leveled off in approximately ten years to the current nine litres. Averagely, men consume 16 alcohol units a week while women 5.4 units (Paton & Touquet 2005).
In recent years binge drinking as a term has come to replace earlier understanding of then same phenomenon of alcohol related anti social behavior. Patterns of anti social behavior that can be explained by the modern effects of binge drinking can be traced from earlier reports in the British history.
As early as the 1854, the Worktown (Bolton) Temperance society report commented that drunkenness as a social phenomenon was painfully prevalent in Borough.
The report further reiterates that this can be confirmed by the presence of men and even women who stagger along the street after heavy consumption of alcohol, brawls, fights and even salient cases of barbarous character.
Studies indicate that in the UK, less than one in ten of thirteen year olds have not engaged in alcohol consumption while half of those between the age group 13-16 binge. The young which is inclusive of women represent the largest group of young drinkers in Europe(Ellul 2008).
While such characteristics which directly infer binge drinking have been socially accepted as British styles of drinking, they are not unique among the British populace alone, but rather such characteristics can be reproduced in several countries in the world.
Cultural ambivalence is the term used to refer to the tolerance and inculcation of heavy drinking in society and therefore while anti drinking ideologies begin to permeate the British landscape, coupled to the licensing laws the tradition still remains and therefore it continues to determine the outcome of the complex strategies that aim at inhibiting heavy drinking behaviors.
Definitions of Binge Drinking
Binge drinking can be referred to as heavy episodic drinking which involves the consumption of at least five consecutive drinks for men and four drinks for women during a two weeks period.
While this definition has been widely adopted and used by researchers, a more concise definition is given by the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse which defines it as “ a pattern of drinking alcohol that brings blood alcohol concentration to 0.08 grams percent or above” (Schutt 2008).
However, irrespective of the definition used, binge drinking remains a sociological problem and a public health concern that needs to be addressed. There are those who argue that it is inappropriate to brand a man who has consumed just five drinks as a pathological case, especially if such consumption occurs over one evening while taking meals or just socializing.
The word binge is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “a heavy drinking bout”. The origin of the word can be traced back to the English dialect term binge which has the meaning of to soak especially for a wooden vessel. Its first recorded use was in eighteen fifty four in Miss Anne Backer’s Glossary of Northamptonshire Words and Phrases.
This shows how historically rooted the concept of heavy drinking has been among the English. The first use of the word appeared in the phrase “a man goes to the alehouse to get a good binge, or to binge himself” (Oxford English Dictionary, 2008). Throughout British history, evidence of heavy drinking and drunkenness that exhibit contemporary descriptions can be traced.
The term binge drinking is however ascribed to two separate meanings within the academic literature. It is used to describe a purposeful pattern of heavy drinking that takes place over an extended period normally defined as drinking extending beyond a day at a time.
An individual who predominantly adopts this kind of drinking characterized with intervening periods of abstinence can thus be referred to as a binge or a bout drinker (World Health Organization 1994). This definition is however attached to more clinical definitions of alcohol dependence or abuse as have been noted by Gmel et al. (2003).
Jellinek’s work on the classification of alcoholism which has been considered a classical work, encompasses what he describes as epsilon alcoholism, sometimes referred to as dipsomania. This is also the same as binge drinking, periodic drinking or paroxysmal (Jallinek, 2006).
Binge drinking has also been used to refer to single instances of drinking resulting into intoxication which is normally measured in X number of drinks consumed in a single occasion. There are other alternative terms that are normally used which includes risky single momentous drinking, heavy episodic drinking, heavy seasonal drinking and just heavy drinking.
All these terms refer to that degree of drinking which can be classified as binge drinking. This second meaning of binge drinking has been widely adopted by politicians and researchers over the recent years. The popularity of the term as denoted by the second use is attributed to the drinking pattern of mostly the young population. A common definition of binge drinking is the consumption of five drinks in a row within the last two weeks.
For researchers, the value of binge drinking as a concept lies in its employment as a measure of harm related with the consumption of alcohol that sees many short term harm associated with the consumption of alcohol come as a result of single instances of drinking rather than consuming more than the weekly recommended levels or the daily capacity of an individual.
In their defense of the use of the term, Wechsler and Austin (1998) argued that the definition of binge drinking as involving the consumption of five drinks in a row represents the basis for the social consequences related with alcohol consumption.
There is no agreement concerning the capacity of alcohol intake that can be rightly referred to as binge drinking within its general definition as a single session of drinking resulting into intoxication. The number of drinks which can be identifies are demarcating the cut off point for binge drinking is varied.
With this regard, the number of individuals who can be classified as binge drinkers will also be dependent upon the presumed cut offs used. As such, the definition employed has a significant effect on the production of statistics. Other factors that also complicate the situation is the variance of standard drinks from country to country which makes cross-country comparisons very difficult.
The cut off definitions are also too simplistic since it does not take into account factors like food consumption, alcohol tolerance capacity, social context and weight. Owing to this, some researchers prefer more qualitative definitions of binge drinking (Harnett et al, 2000: 61-67).
It is clear that there has been a shift in the meaning of binge drinking in recent history. The “classical” definition of binge drinking characterized by sustained drinking over a period of several days has been replaced by the “modern” definition, though not quite entirely, of binge drinking as an instance of acute intoxication.
However, within the context of alcohol, both the terms co-exist even though quite uneasily. For instance, the old definition is still being used within the lexicon of World Health Organization’s terms even though it uses binge drinking in its Global Status Report on Alcohol 2004 to refer to the new definition.
Similarly, the old definition has been used by some authors and the Journal of Studies on Alcohol land Drugs until January 2007 when referring to the new concept of binge drinking. The old definition is also employed in other fields besides the alcohol field.
In two community studies conducted in the United Kingdom aimed at exploring the perceptions and definitions of binge drinking, none of the respondents gave definitions based on the quantity of alcohol consumed. However, some gave definitions related with the old definition (McMahon, 2007: 289-303)
The definitions of binge drinking as used in academic research as much as they are of great importance may not be sufficient enough to capture the whole concept. The definitions as used by the central government agencies are more significant since monitoring of targets and trends are based on the statistics generated which are basically the figures used when designing policies.
The formulation of definitions is however not very clear. As such, questions are bound to be asked on the foundation of the evidence presented and the general role of research community in the whole process.
One interesting fact is that in the United Kingdom, the official measure of binge drinking commonly cited is not actually its measure but the character of heavy drinking. The General Household Survey even though avoids the use of binge drinking as a term uses the measure of heavy drinking as its proxy.
According to McAlaney and McMahon, the official definitions of binge drinking are open to further interpretation as the official figures reflect this ambiguity. Specifically, they highlight that the United Kingdom’s current understanding of binge drinking has been influenced by the two series of studies (the General Household Survey and the Health Survey of England).
Even though the two studies employed similar consumption studies and methodologies, the findings were markedly different owing to the cut offs that they adopted (McAlaney et al 2006: 355–7). The General Household Survey characterized binge drinking with the consumption of more than eight units of alcohol for men and more than six for women while the Health Survey for England puts the figure at eight or more and six or more.
McAlaney and McMahon argue that a misleading conclusion can be arrived at when the difference in interpretation of the eight six definition is overlooked. This is likely to happen when assumptions are made with regard to definition employed and also when the results of the studies are laid as comparable directly.
Kolvin on the other hand argues that conception of binge drinking in the United Kingdom is varied among the key stakeholders owing to the diversity and differences in their institutional agenda (Kolvin, 2005). It is important that all these stakeholders refer to the same thing when addressing the problem of binge drinking while at the same time acknowledging the value of the different conceptions.
However, it is often the case that the stakeholders do not mean the same thing when referring to binge drinking which has the result of impeding any progress that can be made with regard to the problem. The public and the government also hold different perceptions on binge drinking and without a shared understanding , it becomes virtually impossible to develop any effective preventive measures (Coleman, 2007: 305-317).
Motivations for Binge Drinking
Youths typically accept and engage in binge drinking because it is viewed as a normative behavior that is more preferable than not drinking at all. This acceptance occurs in the face of experimented and scientifically proven understanding that binge drinking present the youth to numerous immediate effects like blackouts, hangovers, impaired motor and cognitive coordination and various forms of injury.
Additionally, delayed social consequences associated with binge drinking may also manifest after a considerable period of time. Such consequences include problems at school, at home and even at the workplace. When excessive alcohol consumption occurs in nightclubs, there is a high risk of the group resorting to violence.
It is on the basis of these negative consequences some researchers view binge drinking as a form of self destructive and unrestrained drinking which possibly occurs over a couple of days in which the drinker is heavily intoxicated to a point of blackout.
Due to this the drinker will most likely ignore responsibilities, ignore work, squander money and even engage in other potentially dangerous and undesirable risky behavior such as fights or unprotected sex(Martinic & Measham 2008).
In such a case where the drinker consumes alcohol endlessly for a period of two or more days, he does so specifically to become intoxicated. It is this definition of binge drinking that is used in clinical diagnosis of the phenomenon.
In view of the potential negative consequences associated with binge drinking it is necessary to try and enlist a number of factors that facilitate the development of this sociological phenomenon.
Drinking is a central Leisure Activity
Alcohol consumption takes pride as the central mode of spending free time among the youth. In a UK study encompassing focus groups of young adults and the youth drinking was mentioned by as the most dominant leisure activity.
For a majority, drink is nothing but a source of pleasure since it is sociable, comforting and relatively cheap (Paton & Touquet 2005).Moreover, the youth felt that there were fewer other options that could be considered as a leisure activity (Martinic & Measham 2008).
Extreme drinking occasions are never accidental or unintended since they are always planned in advance. often in a big night out, getting drunk is always the goal and to reach such a goal the youth engineer the progression to acute intoxication by consuming large amount of alcohol beverages with relatively high alcoholic content within the shortest time possible.
Although the young often point out the gal of binge drinking as being of social aspects such as social facilitation and enjoyment, a select majority who have been addicted to binge drinking derive their enjoyment from feeling drunk. Feeling drunk has been developed as an ideal form of having a good time (Coleman & Cater 2005). There is exists a relationship between the pursuit of ecstasy and binge drinking among the youth (Miller & Caroll 2006).
Drinking as a way of facilitating peer relations
Peers play an integral role in providing identity and social support. Cultural norms are a factor in the development of peer groups and therefore a factor in the promotion of binge drinking. Since excessive drinking has been accepted as a rite of passage on one hand and a normative habit on the other, the youth engage in it as a means of getting fun and bonding with their friends. This is true for students enrolled in universities and colleges.
Moreover, much of the drinking is carried out along social milieus. The linkage between alcohol use and relationships is very complex but what is certain is that getting drunk is one form of developing intimate relationships.
Because adolescence and young adulthood is a time where the formation of sexual relationships and romantic relationships is prevalent, alcohol use facilitates flirtation which is a key ingredient in the formation of relationships. The opportunity for interaction and the confidence to effectively pursue an interaction is provided by intoxication and the group (Martinic & Measham 2008).
Drinking as a means of coping with problems
Ideally development processes and transitions are always marked by continuity and discontinuity. The period of adolescent have always been described as a naturally turbulent period where adolescents develop problems with their parents, school teachers and even with their intimate partners.
When it is understood that this period also marks the period where individuals experiment with almost every thing be it drugs, alcohol or positive experimentation such as counseling and other stress management methods, it becomes relatively easier to understand why adolescents and the youth in particular resort to the use of alcohol as a means of solving their problems.
Since consumption of alcohol occurs in groups and that such groups not only function as a formidable social cycle but also as a source of comfort. Moreover, the group may advise an individual that alcohol consumption is ideally the best way of dealing with such problems.
The purpose of this article is to shed light on the concept of binge drinking, the popular contentions with regard to its definition, patterns and the commonly consumed drinks. It is based on informal interviews conducted in pubs and bars within a sample town and academic materials written on the topic.
Among the people interviewed are managers, customers and staff. The material is also based on public analysis on the same topic with emphasis on policy and policy effectiveness. A sample unit of one hundred individuals was interviewed which involved the following categories:
Pub managers and senior staff: the interview focused on their perception of binge drinking, the prevalence of such behavior, the population that exhibit such behavior (for instance, class, age, gender, race, et cetera), the type of drinks purchased during different periods of evening or night, how their behavior impact on the management, if there are extreme circumstances associated with drinking that called for the intervention of medical services and the general strategies for handling specific conditions.
It also included questions on what the government can do to improve conditions not only for the management but also for their clients.
Bar staff: the focus of the interview was mainly on their experiences with “binge drinkers”, the drinks that are most preferred by the binge drinkers and the patterns of drinking.
Customers: this was based on the type of drinks they prefer, the quantity or amount they consume within given times, their experiences with drinking and their perception on binge drinking.
Customers that could be classified as binge drinkers: this focused on their motivation to engage in drinking, the amount of alcohol consumed within specific periods of time, the preferred brands, their perception of binge drinking and their experiences.
Public authorities: the focus was their take on the practice of binge drinking, their definition and actions to be taken with regard to it.
In each of the location, observational work was conducted which focused on the quantity and type of drink consumed “binge drinkers”.
On top of this, other interviews were conducted among police officers, medical practitioners and resident representatives on their view of binge drinking and whether any of them had engaged in the practice. Academic articles were also searched in order to see if the binge drinking can is considered in academic field.
Patterns of drinking
Alcohol consumption elicits salient patterns that are not only determined by the social structure , religious attitudes but also demography and ethical attitudes. A simple illustration supporting this fact is the differences in drinking patterns between the Mediterranean and the British.
Among the British, people generally drink in pubs while their Mediterranean counterparts mainly consume alcohols as an accompaniment to meals. In the United Kingdom it has been established that the amount of money spent on alcohol is in excess of any other commodity (Paton & Touquet 2005).
Generally, drinking patterns offer a description of three crucial aspects of the consumption of alcohol. For instance; populations; this describes the nature of the individuals or groups who possess common traits or drinking practices, contexts of drinking and behaviors that may be exhibited during drinking that may bear on the overall outcome of binge drinking (Stimson et al 2007). Drinking patterns also encompass a number of facets;
- The quantity of alcoholic beverages in relation to their alcoholic content consumed per occasion
- Duration and the frequency of alcohol consumption
- Types of alcoholic beverages consumed
- Individual characteristics of drinkers
- The settings of consumption and the activities that accompany the consumption of alcohol and,
- The role pf culture in alcohol consumption, the significance of alcohol consumption and the social mores surrounding alcohol consumption
We cannot analyze drinking patterns and consequently the effects they have on outcomes unless we understand, the population structure of alcohol consumption. Such a population structure is variable from country to country.
The dimensions of population structure that determine binge drinking and correlate it with possible outcomes are generally classified into the broad categories of gender, age, education level, socioeconomic factors and individual factors such as health and genetic predisposition.
Gender as an integral population dimension plays a central role in the determination of drinking behavior. Men are generally more predisposed to the acquisition of drinking behavior as opposed to women. Moreover, men consume a comparatively high amount of alcohol as compared to women(Stimson et al 2007).
This difference is attributable to a set of social and cultural factors that determine the extent of tolerance of some behaviors in the society. Additionally, physiological differences give men more advantage when it comes to the rate of metabolism of alcohol.
Because women are physiologically smaller in size when compared to men, they experience the effects of alcohol at a faster rate due to higher rates of absorption into the circulatory system. However, as gender roles continue to evolve, women are challenging some of the deep seated social and cultural roles that discouraged their consumption of alcohol(Stimson et al 2007).
Age is another integral component of population that influences the nature of alcohol consumption. As humans continue their developmental process, transitions are reached. These transitions determine a set of physical and behavioral characteristics that can either be beneficial to the normal development of an individual or detrimental depending on the manner in which such transitions are navigated.
The youth are generally more prone to binge drinking because of their relative inexperience with alcohol consumption, general propensity for taking risks and the physiological susceptibility inherent in that stage of development(Stimson et al 2007). Physiological susceptibilities play a role in modifying alcohol consumption patterns among the youth.
As people advance in age, they tend to drink less as compared to the youth. Moreover, older people have undergone several changes in life such as retirement, life partner loss and transformations in lifestyle necessitated by old age. Such factors have the ability to modify drinking habits.
Research has also demonstrated that older members of the society who continue to consume alcohol moderately are comparatively more active, less likely to develop cognitive impairments and possess stronger social networks when compared to their counterparts who do not drink. Physiological changes, medications and underlying health status also limit the level of alcohol consumption among the aged.
Social and Economic Factors
The interactions of social class, ethnicity, marital status and education possess a strong influence in determining the different drinking patterns exhibited in different cultures all over the world. These interactions play a pivotal role in determining the how people drink, the role of drinking in the society, the views on alcohol, and even the outcomes that are to be expected upon intoxication.
It is on the basis of these interactions that social and economic status influences the shaping of drinking behavior. Certain forms of cultures profoundly glorify some drinking behaviors because of the belies that they reflect manliness, upward social mobility, valor and even determine ethnic boundaries(Stimson et al 2007)
Economically, the affordability of alcohol can be closely associated with the development of certain patterns of drinking. For example when the consumption patterns of developing countries are critically analyzed, it is possible to discern the preference of western imported beverages by the affluent urban populations.
Traditionally brewed beverages are predominantly confined to the rural populations and urban poor because they can not afford the preference of the affluent. In developed countries, higher incomes have been linked to the high frequency of alcohol consumption even though this does not necessarily translate to heavy alcohol consumption.
Moreover, individuals who are married and possess a stable job are more prone to frequent alcohol consumption though not necessarily heavy. On the other hand, it has been established that individuals in the lower socio economic class are more likely to consume alcohol less frequently but in these few occasions they generally engage in heavy drinking and that such occasions are likely to occur in groups (Stimson et al 2007).
Settings and Venues
Consumption of alcohol occurs in a variety of settings and venues. Such settings and venues include private homes, pubs, bars, taverns, sporting events, restaurants and during public celebrations.
The distinction between private consumption and public consumption of alcohol is important in determining the patterns of alcohol consumption and consequent outcomes that may arise after intoxication. Some cultures have inculcated drinking into a necessary and routinely observed action that occurs in everyday interactions such as social gatherings and meal times.
In the United Kingdom and Ireland, drinking mainly occurs in the pubs and taverns which have traditionally been modeled into primary drinking avenues. The characteristics of such drinking avenues or settings have a profound influence in shaping the drinking patterns.
For instance, architectural and aesthetic features that characterize lighting, crowd control, seating, availability of different beverage types and food determine the level of consumption of alcohol and the consequent outcomes after intoxication.
While venues such as restaurants promote drinking at a comparatively leisurely pace, pubs and bars encourage faster and heavier consumption of alcohol. Since settings and avenues where alcohol is consumes have to be compliant to a set of governing regulations which prescribe licensing hours, such places greatly influence both the concentrations absorbed and the outcomes of binge drinking (Stimson et al 2007).
Just like food service establishments, drinking avenues are built according to target clientèle. Live music as a form of entertainment has been used to lure the young to such premises. The varying prices of alcoholic beverages in different establishments are also a way of defining their target customer.
In joints where beverages are sold much more expensively, only the affluent who can afford such prices will frequent such settings. Appropriate modifications of settings have the ability to promote light and safe consumption of alcohol.
Behavior represents the third dimension of drinking patterns. The culture of drinking can only be developed when the behavior exhibited after intoxication is relatively tolerable. Behavior can only be discussed in relation to a number of factors. For instance;
Drinking and Leisure
Alcohol consumption as an activity is mainly associated with leisure time when individuals seek to engage in pleasurable activities and relax. Alternatively, time out for leisure denotes family gatherings or meal times in British culture.
It is to be understood that cultures that integrate drinking into the fabric of everyday activities are rarely a recipe for problematic outcomes. However, in celebrations such as sports which are glorified among the British, an isolated activity or group activity is stimulated for its own sake and the end result is always drunkenness and unfavorable public behaviors (Stimson et al. 2007).
Moreover, since times of leisure are subject to seasonal fluctuations, drinking is also subject to such seasonal patterns. In Britain, summer months and holidays stimulate binge drinking. The traditional acceptance of drinking also means that traditional drinking patterns have to be maintained even when seasonal shifts prescribe less and infrequent alcohol consumption.
Types of drinks commonly consumed
There are some specific drinks associated with binge drinking. These include vodka, prepackaged spirits, shorts and lager specifically when served with sweeter drinks like Red Bull. A party or a big night will in most cases consist of drink mixing. Individuals tend to begin on a lighter note with beer then proceed to harder drinks with increased alcohol content.
The media has frequently associated alcopops with antisocial behavior and binge drinking. However, according to many bar managers, the government and the media often show some element of biasness towards newly introduced alcoholic brands, often associating them with binge drinking tendency.
More specifically, they note that they are hard on alcopops. These managers often hold that the media and the government often treat binge drinking as a new phenomenon and hence seem to explain its increase with the introduction of new brands in the market.
When the quantity of alcohol is the main definitive aspect in binge drinking, it may be said that the type of drinks consumed vary with the occasion. Quite often, brands with moderately high alcohol content seem to be involved in binge drinking.
Vodka and spirits are in most cases associated with binge drinking as individuals are likely to be carried away once they begin drinking. However, some findings indicate that seventy percent of all consumed binge drinks are beer (White, 2006:34-45). these findings also indicate that individual who have consumed beer are more likely to get violent, risk driving when drunk or get hurt.
The reason could be because beer enjoys a favorable status in the society and there are numerous misconceptions about its imminent dangers. Coupled with its mildness of taste, one is more likely to consume large quantities. However, any drink has the capacity to be used in binge drinking owing to its accessibility.
Profiles of a binge drinker
The dominant perception that binge drinking is a preserve of the young only seems to contradict research evidence. Both the government and the media often quote the age group 18-24 as the most prone o binge drinking. However, when respondents were interviewed and a qualitative analysis carried out on the collected data, it was demonstrated that the age group 25-34 as most likely to be binge drinkers as opposed to the younger counterparts.
Even though the legal age of drinking in the UK is 18 years, children begin drinking between the ages of 10-15. In then United Kingdom registered youth clubs, permit drinking and it is these pubs that cultivate the drinking habit as early as the tender age of five years (Paton & Touquet 2005).
The age group of 16-24 is characteristic of compulsive drinking but because of their economic status, they may not engage in frequent consumption as compared to the 25-34 age group who are relatively financially endowed and therefore capable of satisfying their consumption desires.
Financial endowment means that the 25-34 age group have the capacity to drink based on preference of specific brands of alcoholic beverage, drink for longer durations and more frequently.
Another complex and striking social change that cannot be easily explained is the enormous popularity of binge drinking among women over thirty years.
Even though physiological differences dictate that they can drink less amount of alcohol when compared to the amounts that men consume and that they are comparatively more sensitive to alcohol than men when equal amounts of alcohol are consumed, younger women especially young professionals frequently engage in alcohol consumption. Women preferably drink wine or spirits as opposed top beer (Paton & Touquet 2005).
When this preference is analyzed with reference to alcoholic content it becomes easy to discern why such women are classified under binge drinkers even if the amount they take is comparatively small to the watchful eye.
Apart from the other compulsive actions that propagate the resolution to engage in excessive alcohol consumption, such an age also represents a time of stressful work and family problems such as having lesser time with their boyfriends or husbands may also promote binge drinking.
As for older people, binge drinkers constitute that part of the old population who are suffering from loneliness, anxiety and depression, lack of family support and stimulation and general old age insomnia. At this stage where care providers try to ensure that the last stage in life is made relatively comfortable, controlled drinking for those who are drinkers is accepted.
Moreover, some symptoms of old age may be confused with effects of binge drinking and so it is not very easy to clinically diagnose the outcomes of binge drinking. Some pathological conditions, however, necessitate the complete elimination of alcohol from the daily diet.
Binge drinking is predominantly a male preoccupation. However, women are increasingly engaging in the activity than was traditionally common. Some studies have also demonstrated that in the UK binge drinking is gender equal (Järvinen & Room 2007).
It can be favorably argued that the societies insistence on not tolerating excessive consumption among women draws its support from the clearly defined gender based roles of women which includes their duties as mothers, wives and carers and hence the broad understanding that they should carry themselves as moral guardians in the society (Harrison 1996).
The current roles of women in society after the emancipation of the woman led to the change in the traditionally accepted gender roles. Because the enlightenment of women and the quest for equality among women was viewed as a threat to social order by the dominant males, women espoused alcohol consumption even though the society still views their participation in the activity as a form of alien activity in the context of gender roles (Harrison 1996).
Alcohol advertising has been blamed for this paradigm shift since the scenes of wild parting that glamorize excessive alcohol consumption implicitly promote alcohol consumption by all the sexes.
While pointing out that gender in advertising has a role in promoting alcohol consumption, the World Health Organization noted in its anti alcohol campaigns that the sexualization in alcohol advertising has its role in the reconstruction of gender and consequently increasing alcohol consumption among the women and the promotion of the binge drinking mentality (Hackley 2005).
The changing behavior is of particular interest because apart from targeting the young and those in early adulthood, it serves to promote tolerance and acceptance of binge drinking as a form of leisure activity.
When gender is used as a control variable in the profiling of binge drinking, some salient features have to be incorporated into the analysis so as to yield a reliable and reproducible result. One of the features is physical size which dictates that naturally males consume more alcohol than females.
It is this feature that has been behind the British definition of binge drinking which differentiates gender understanding of binge drinking based on the number of units taken (Schulenberg et al 1999).
Other features include psychosocial features (which define the different sexes in relation to self image, peer and social acceptance), personal goals (such as academic, social and health goals) and beliefs that accompany promote or prohibit the consumption of alcohol (for instance risk or fun).
Using bivariate correlations that exist between the predictors and criterion variables, it was established that gender predicted 4 to 7 percent of the variance in alcohol consumption with males exhibiting the characteristic in excess of females.
With reference to psychosocial adjustment, it was again established that even though self image was important, it was not related bivariately to binge drinking even though it remained a consistent predictor when the effects of acceptance by peers was controlled (Schulenberg et al. 1999).
Social class as a concept of the profile of a binge drinker distinguishes between the upper, middle and working class (Dowdall et al 2004). When social scientists use this classification as a means of capturing variations in binge drinking among different members of the society, many variables such as ethnicity, gender and age and held as being constant unless if such other concepts as aforementioned becomes a necessity as a variable for analysis.
Social classes remain one of the strongest and longest standing predictors of community health (Hardill et al 2001). Although the reliance on social class as a predictor of health has long been criticized by some quarters, the general nature of each social stratum leads to the development of distinct behavioral characteristics that influence drinking habits
In the United Kingdom, the existence of these social strata has been very useful in trying to correlate certain behavioral characteristics with reference to the socioeconomic status of each stratum. Class attributes have an impact in health and other risky behaviors.
Among the higher classes and middle classes, income levels are comparatively high and therefore they can afford better food, housing, clothing, sporting activities and education. Generally, this translates into a better lifestyle. Higher education levels mean that they have the capacity to make healthy living decisions. Since there income levels can accommodate leisure activities.
Incidentally, the upper social and middle social classes drink more frequently but less heavily as compared to the lower classes. This distinction can be explained by the choice of venues or settings where drinking takes place. In high end pubs, with good entertainment and relatively expensive drinks, clients are by nature of their environment encouraged to consume at a more leisurely pace.
Although social class is determinant of income levels it does not imply that lack of money per se is to blame for the binge drinking problem since the lower class who are considered the poorest in the socioeconomic ladder spend more on alcohol consumption and other drugs such as tobacco.
Lack of enough health education, low paying jobs, lack of self esteem, housing are the main causes of excessive, compulsive consumption of alcohol with the sole aim of getting drunk.
This is done so as to erase the frustrations and depressions of life or on the other hand just have a good time (Hardill et al 2001).. It is for this reason that the poor have been found to drink alcohol less frequently (possibly due to lack of enough money to engage in daily drinking sprees) but more heavily on single isolated occasions.
The relationship between socio-economic status and alcohol consumption is real though less clear as compared to the relationship of smoking and socio-economic status. There are some studies which have demonstrated an absence of a social gradient for men while women elicit an inverse relationship where women in the upper and middle class are more prone to binge drinking as opposed to their counterparts in the lower classes (Strickland & Shetty 1998).
However, data on drinking generally do not sufficiently discriminate between cases of controlled drinking and binge drinking because of the likelihood of a controlled drinker to occasionally engage in binge drinking.
Social class explains the vulnerability of lower class older adolescents to binge drinking. After the adjustment of aspects such as age, gender and other relevant social variables this vulnerability exists as a product of reverse causality.
However, even this does not offer a plausible explanation when the concept of social mobility is integrated into the analysis (Ashvind & Ollendick 2000). Nonetheless if alcohol addiction occurs at a tender age, the addiction could explain the alcohol dependence. In cases of upward mobility but the explanation is not plausible for adolescents who are binge drinkers and yet they have not been exposed to any influence among the lower class.
Researchers have also demonstrated that women in higher social classes exhibit late onset of alcoholism, however as they progress to old age they may consume less alcohol and are comparatively less likely to engage in binge drinking and therefore they are consequently less prone to alcohol related illnesses like suicidal behavior, physical illness, arrests or loss of jobs or friends due to drinking.
On the contrary women of lower classes experience more childhood disruptions, marital problems, erratic employment activities, familial alcoholism and so on. These factors predispose them to bouts of alcohol consumption as compared to their counterparts in the lower classes. Moreover they are also more likely to drink in groups (Cook et al 1985).
Another factor which predisposes women to alcoholism is the presence or absence of an alcoholic husband and even this is highly dependent on the socioeconomic class. While rates of alcoholism among husbands in the upper and middle classes level at approximately 8%, the rates in among the lower classes are as high as 56% (Cook et al 1985). In reference to these percentages, social class has the potential to induce psychological factors which promote binge drinking.
Medical and social effects on binge drinking
The existence of more reliable and sophisticated methods of assessing the effects of binge drinking has been instrumental in the assessment of immune system effects. Even though binge drinking occur more prevalently that is perceived, its effects have not been put into the strict scientific scrutiny that usually accompanies alcoholism and its effects in general.
Moreover, there are little publications that attest to the effects of binge drinking on the immune system. Indications point to the fact that a single excessive drinking episode has the ability to considerably suppress the immune system. In 1938, a study carried out in rabbits to try and demonstrate the effect of administration of ETOH and the resultant effects on the immune system with reference to resistance to Streptococcus pneumoniae.
A reproduction of the study in human beings involved measuring the chemotactic response in leukocytes after carrying out dermabrasion. This was quantified using a chamber that secured the abraded area.
In individuals who had taken 20% ETOH (50-75 ml) solution and measured after a period of twenty minutes chemotherapy was profoundly suppressed in a manner similar to comatose individuals due to shock after myocardial infarction or septic shock (Dean 1994).
Sustained alcohol consumption in large doses is neurotoxic and has the capacity of destroying cells. Studies to confirm the effects of binge drinking on adolescent brains are still on going but there is primary evidence that the brains of adolescents are particularly more vulnerable to the effects of compulsive, sustained high intake of alcohol.
Some studies comparing brains scans and cognitive tests of adolescent and other underage drinkers have demonstrated the effects of alcohol as impaired memory and poor reasoning skills.
Additionally, the hippocampus which is the area of the brain handling memory and learning has been found to be comparatively smaller (10% smaller) among drinkers than non drinkers. This contraction of the hippocampus is not known to be reversible (IAS 2007).
Anecdotal evidence suggests that binge drinking has variable learning and memory effects on adolescents and adults (Galanter & Lowman 2005 ). However, much more research has to be done to confirm this relationship. The hippocampus is the primary learning and memory center in the brain and as such any effect on it must have an n effect on the learning and memory capabilities of an individual.
When such studies are carried out by using rats it was established that the effect of acute intoxication is variable with age. The reproduction of these results on human studies is obviously difficult due to the insurmountable legal and ethical reasons.
However, using cognitive tests, it has been possible to establish this link and the results point to the same understanding that alcohol induced memory and learning impairments indeed vary with age (Galanter & Lowman 2005). One method of testing the level of memory is subjecting experimentally intoxicated individuals of varying ages to a line drawing then withdrawing the line from their sight after a determined period of time.
Individuals are then requested to reproduce the drawing on allocated pieces of paper immediately after withdrawal and again after a specified period of time to determine the extent of immediate recall and delayed recall respectively. When the results were analyzed it was possible to notice the differences in immediate recall and delayed recall capabilities as adolescents performed worse than individuals in early adulthood.
This can be explained by the differences in the way alcohol influences hippocampal activity which is different for adolescents and adults. In adolescents, alcohol inhibits LTP induction and NMDA receptor mediated synaptic potentials much more potently than in adults (Swarzwelder et al 1995). This explanation supports the fact that the extent of hippocampal activity is variable and more acute in periadolescent development.
Alcohol poisoning is the most common medical effect of binge drinking and is proportionately related to the blood alcohol concentration. Severe intoxication causes blurred or double vision, marked muscular incordination, stupor and hypothermia, convulsions, occasionally hypoglycemia, respiratory depression, depression of reflexes, hypotension and coma.
In very severe cases death may result from respiratory failure, circulatory failure or the aspiration of stomach contents in cases where the gag reflex is absent. Severe intoxication may stimulate severe hypoglycemia resulting in a coma.
Death due to alcohol poisoning has been established to be prevalent among inexperienced drinkers who build up blood alcohol levels to catastrophic levels within a very short duration. Clinically, blood alcohol levels varying between >300-400mg% may lead to death among naïve drinkers (IAS 2007).
The effect of binge drinking on the gastrointestinal tract is the esophageal damage causing in acute hemorrhage. Moreover, binge drinking has been incriminated in acute gastritis which is responsible for nausea, vomiting as well as pancreatitis which is responsible for metabolic complications, abdominal pain and even death.
Other medical consequences include liver damage (liver cirrhosis) and alcoholic dementia (Korsakoff’s Syndrome) (Champion & Power 1992).
The cardiovascular system is one unique system that exhibits the beneficial effects of alcohol consumption but these health benefits arise only in cases of controlled alcohol drinking. For instance a little and often consumption. However, these benefits are age restricted and are only applicable to the middle aged and the elderly.
Binge drinking do not possess any health benefits as it does not act in a protective manner as controlled consumption of alcohol, in any case it only predisposes one to high risk conditions (Puddy 1999). In a generalized study carried out among adolescents in the UK, adolescent binge drinking has been associated with an increase in the risks in health, educational, and socioeconomic adversity which continues into adult life.
Since alcohol has the ability to cultivate dependence, harmful drinking in adulthood has been to blame for other drugs and substance abuse, criminal convictions, poor educational achievements and lower socioeconomic status (Viner & Taylor 2007).
Long term effects of binge drinking may be manifested as increase in blood pressure. For example, individuals who consume more than three or four units of alcohol per day predisposes themselves to high blood pressure later in life.
On the other hand, binge drinking increases the risk of ischemic strokes and acute hemorrhagic strokes by as much as tenfold. The increase of the latter is mediated by acute blood pressure increases and cerebral artery spasms.
An increase in ischemic stroke is stimulated by embroli that originate from the heart mainly as a result of cardiac arrhythmias (Kupari & Koskanin 1998). Among the middle aged, sub arachnoid hemorrhage is the most predominant effect of binge drinking (IAS 2007).
Just like adolescents are more vulnerable to the medical effects of binge drinking, women, especially pregnant women have also been found to be seriously at risk if they engage in binge drinking. The United Kingdom government recommends that pregnant women should not consume more than four units of alcohol each week and that consumption should be limited to two units for every occasion.
This limit ensures that pregnant women do not become intoxicated. A variety of research studies on the relationship of heavy episodic drinking and pre-natal exposure suggest that the levels of blood alcohol level is a key determinant of pre-natal exposure and therefore the effects in the mental and physical development of the unborn.
When five units are consumed in a single occasion the potential effects to the fetus is comparatively higher than when those five units were consumed over a longer period of time.
Even though international debates have not succeeded in developing a uniform level of alcohol consumption that can be described as binge drinking, what remains clear is than intoxication should always be avoided at all times by pregnant women since intoxication has a direct effect on fetal development as well as increasing the likelihood of accidents such as tripping and falls both of which might inflict physical injury to the mother and to the fetus as well (Alcohol Concern 2003).
With regard to mental health researchers have not succeeded in conclusively determining the relationship between binge drinking and mental illnesses. However, because binge drinking possesses a strong linkage with depression, anxiety and suicide, it nonetheless predisposes one to mental illnesses.
With reference to the UK studies approximately 39% and 8% men and women respectively who attempted suicide were diagnosed to be binge drinkers. Additionally, in 70% of all suicide cases by attempt men and 40% of all suicide attempt cases by women, alcohol consumption was done before such attempts (Alcohol Concern 2003).
Binge Drinking and Accidents
Alcohol consumption patterns directly correlate to hospital casualty statistics and emergency room data. Studies cutting across the general population have elicited a salient relationship between binge drinking and non fatal accident injuries (Hington & Howland 1987).
High quality drinking has also been liked to driving. Since alcohol intoxication has the capacity to impair visual acuity and motor coordination, the frequency of binge drinking and driving significantly increases the risk of accidents that result from impaired driving (Foss & Perrine 1993).
Moreover, studies have established that alcohol blood level and dose response and the risk of traffic accidents are directly proportionate. The greater the extent of alcohol intoxication, the higher the likelihood that an accident will occur and if it occurs then the severity of injuries is also directly correlated to the level of intoxication (Brismar & Bergman 1998).
Binge Drinking, Violence and Crime
Since mid 20th Century alcohol consumption has been on the rise in the United Kingdom. Binge drinking has fully established itself as a social and cultural menace simply because of initial social acceptance and normalization of the habit. The United Kingdom is now home to fighting, shouting and vomiting youth (Gossop 2007).
Such negative behavioral consequences of binge drinking are mostly predominant on Friday and Saturday nights. With the worst case of teenage drinking, the UK hospital staff has become used to an influx of abusive and violent drunks every weekend. This trend marks the society’s abhorrence of violence by drunks on one hand but on the other it also signifies the inability of the society to institute measures to curb their progression into a drunken nation.
The relationship between violence, crime and alcohol is a well documented relationship (Emslie & Hancock 2008). Alcohol has the capacity to encourage aggression which may terminate into violence. This relationship is manly supported by the capacity of intoxication to disrupt normal brain functions.
Because of alcohol induced disinhibition in the brain compulsive behaviors that are usually maintained under normal circumstances such as aggression and violence an individual may not be able to contain himself. The causal link between violence and alcohol is not a direct one but aggression may be increased due to the manifestation of alcohol induced cognitive impairment.
When this happens in the presence of underlying cultural expectations that view drinking as being causative of aggression, then the initial increase due to cognitive impairment becomes greatly amplified and the individual may resort to violence (Emslie & Hancock 2008). In cases where cultural or social expectations denote that heavy drinking is unlikely to lead to aggression, then an individual is less likely to resort to the use of violence.
These explanations are true to the UK scenario where binge drinking takes place in the pubs or clubs as opposed to cultures where alcohol has been fully integrated in lifestyle and is mainly taken as an accompaniment to meals.
The parting culture in the UK is known for the development of antisocial behavior because of the underlying belief that drunks are more likely to engage in violence. This is confirmed by the likelihood of violent incidents to take place within or around bars and clubs. In all these cases of violence it has been estimated that roughly 80% involve binge drinking(Emslie & Hancock 2008).
So many social scientists have proved that the general society is particularly frightened of street crime. Despite the fact that crime occurs in other environments as well such as domestic violence, the enduring perception of street crime and its association with alcohol intake has been the underlying understanding driving public discourse in the relationship of alcohol abuse and crime (Dingwall 2006).
This fear of urban nocturnal street crime is a product of the social perceptions of the existence of disorder in the community. Even though disorder is distinct and different from crime, there is likelihood that binge drinking may promote the transcendence towards disorder. When this is coupled with aggression, violence ensues and with it the likelihood of a criminal act.
Several studies of homicide, rape and assault have consistently incriminated alcohol as a causative factor. Public places such as pubs and bars where people converge for the purpose of alcohol consumption are undoubtedly some of the highest risk areas for interpersonal violence.
An analysis of urban violence statistics confirm that nearly 20% of all violence that occur in public places originate from entertainment establishments (Levinson 2002). However, these statistics are an unreliable source of predicting the extent of alcohol induced violence and crime since a large percentage of crimes committed usually goes unreported.
These worrying statistics were the reasons behind the coining of the word “barroom violence” to describe alcohol induced cases of violence within bars and pubs. By definition, barroom violence refers to any intentional action by one party(individual or a group) towards another party within the precincts of a public drinking establishment.
Violence is especially witnessed after midnight and towards the closing time and normally involves persons who had both been drinking (Richardson & Budd 2003).
Young men are more prone to engage in barroom violence after intoxication than their older counterparts and men generally are more often involved in violence in comparison to women.
This comparison is not new since it is understood that the number of men who drink are higher than women, they are more likely to drink many units and do so more frequently. On the other hand violence by women is more likely to occur in a private setting such as the home environment as opposed to the public drinking establishments.
While woman to women violence cases are considerably few, violence against women after heavy bouts of drinking has been categorized as severe physical violence (assault), sexual violence (completed and attempted rape) and other instances of mild physical abuse such as throwing glasses at them, kicking, punching, kidnapping or chocking them.
Severe sexual assaults do not normally occur within the public drinking establishment but within the periphery of such establishments like in alley hoods, car or in their residences after they leave the bar (Levinson 2002)
Binge Drinking and Psychological Problems
Alcohol disrupts the normal social functioning of an individual. Binge drinking has the potential of leading to tolerance and physical dependence hence addicts will most likely seek to physiologically satisfy their alcohol needs.
The net result is that more time is allocated to seeking inebriation. Hangovers after a night out are can only be effectively eliminated by additional drinking. Moreover, alcohol related suffering and the after effects of alcohol consumption.
At the extreme level, alcohol addicts or more specifically binge drinkers might find it extremely difficult to pursue stable employment. In some cases they may become abusive and dismissive towards friends and family. This eventually leads to alienation and consequently the development of suicidal mentality.
Lack of work leads to financial difficulties. If binge drinking is analyzed with reference to its ability to increase the chances of an individual to use other drugs, then more expensive drugs such as heroine and cocaine will only propel a person to additional financial difficulties.
To satisfy his physical dependence, an individual may resort to crime or prostitution as a means of acquiring the much needed financial resources in indulge into another round of binge drinking.
The psychological consequences of such a deplorable state of living are undoubtedly grim. Depression and anxiety sets in, loneliness and lack of emotional support take toll and alcohol becomes the only way of attaining temporary relief however, the vicious cycle continues (Champion & Power 1992).
Binge Drinking and Unwanted or Unsafe Sexual Activity
It is common knowledge that alcohol can considerably impair judgment. In situations where an individual is completely inebriated judgment regarding key issues like the safety of sexual activity are obliterated.
It has been demonstrated that alcohol intoxication predisposes one to high risk sexual behavior either with persons who are known to the intoxicated person or with persons who are completely unknown but who are willing to have sex for one reason or the other.
When respondents are interviewed on the level of judgment after alcohol consumption, a majority accept the fact that they are not at their best while making judgments under the influence of alcohol.
At the time of consent to sexual activity, only the perceived pleasure rules the decision making process while the dangers associated with such a decision are basically brushed aside. It happens that after engaging in sexual activity and when an individual has sobered up, the realization of the danger of the situation sinks in and suicidal notions as well as self blame take center stage(Wight 2000).
It is prudent to note that with the high incidence and prevalence of venereal diseases, binge drinkers should be particularly encouraged to desist from making sexual advances and consequently the consent to engage in sexual activity with the knowledge that in times of intoxication anything can go wrong and the prospects of nursing a debilitating sexually related infection is real.
Strategies of managing binge drinking
It is a recognized fact that there is a continued growth of binge drinking and drug abuse in the United Kingdom. Social acceptability is a critical factor fueling this trend but it does not propagate the trend alone as it works in tandem with other forces.
While evidence of direct motivation are never clear cut, generalized discussions on the motivations and strategies instituted to confront binge drinking can indeed be misleading. It is only in recent times that the public and the government have taken steps to represent what was the norm in society as a worrying development.
The youth have simply acquired what the society had to offer them and the result is their being referred to as hedonistic, uncaring and self centered individuals who have willingly adopted a form of lifestyle that devoid of responsibility and morality(France 2007).
While we insist on such descriptions it is prudent to understand that adolescence is a period of development that is marked by turbulence and rebellion so as long as they know that the society perceives them as being in possession of anti social attitudes and that they are purely focused on their own interests, they remain engrossed in dangerous and healthy risk behaviors such as binge drinking as away of drowning their depressions and anxieties.
The youth and the young adults as they exist today are products of parental failings, irresponsible communities and government policies which do not address the real motivation behind the normalization of binge drinking.
The strategy that has been adopted by the government of the United Kingdom with regard to binge drinking is mainly focused on the minimization of harm. This strategy has three main strands which are a new system of licensing, Alcohol Harm reduction strategy and a Public Health White Paper.
However, these strategies have constantly been criticized by various individuals, especially in the medical profession who sees the reduction of binge drinking and general alcohol misuse as dependent upon the availability of alcohol. According to these critics, the only way of reducing binge drinking is through the implementation of policies designed to restrict the availability of alcohol.
All licensing activities associated with alcohol is regulated by the new licensing laws. This has replaced the fragmented system which has been in use prior to 2005. The laws allow for the extension for the time of opening to twenty four hours, gives provision for the expansion of the powers of the police to handle premises considered troublesome and also transferred to the local authorities licensing powers from the magistrate.
The new strategy is directed towards changing the attitude of irresponsible drinking among the young population through enhancing communication and education, provision for better health and treatment systems for the aim of identifying and treating alcohol problems at an early stage and working closely with the alcohol industry.
The white paper on the other hand focuses on the establishment of a voluntary social responsibility scheme for the production industries and retailers, close collaboration of the government with the drink industry for the purpose of developing a campaign on binge drinking, tackling alcohol problems at its onset by investing more in the National Health Service and finally, piloting screening coupled with brief interventions for binge drinking.
These strategies have been widely criticized by scientists, police and resident representatives. Prolonging opening hours has particularly been seen as increasing the opportunity for binge drinking thereby increasing the prospects of the problem.
There is a growing concern about the implication of the licensing laws both on the society and health of individuals. As such, it is widely held that instead of curbing the problem, they are likely to increase it. Relaxing the licensing laws will therefore pose a major problem according to this group. These new licensing laws have also been strongly opposed by the Royal College of Physicians.
It suggests that overall alcohol consumption will be increased by the extension of opening hours which will have negative implications on public health. The government of the other hand hopes that the new laws besides encouraging an alteration in the drinking culture in the United Kingdom will reduce general crime and anti-social behavior.
The Department of Culture, Media and Sports however sees some advantages in the new laws, especially opening time extension. One of the benefits is that the culture of stocking up before closure will be greatly reduced.
Another reason is that the closing time may be staggered with an effect of cutting down on the number of individuals disgorging onto the streets simultaneously. The Department for Culture, Media and Sports sees the laws as having the capacity to change the drinking culture of Britons from binge drinking to a responsible mode of drinking.
The strategies that have been adopted by the government of United Kingdom have elicited much contention. Central to this is whether increasing alcohol access will lead to an increase in consumption. There are mixed results in different countries with regard to this issue.
Other countries like Australia have recorded an increase in the consumption of alcohol with the extension of the opening hours. Increased drunkenness and violence have also been recorded. Similar effects have also been reported in many countries including Canada, Iceland and Ireland. However, in Norway, Finland and Sweden, there has been a reduction in alcohol consumption among heavy drinkers.
This is because such countries have reduced licensing hours. In many Mediterranean countries, the level of binge drinking is not as pronounced as in the United Kingdom even though there is no restriction on the availability of alcohol.
It may be said that the consumption patterns are dictated by the prevailing drinking culture. Whether a responsible attitude towards drinking is brought about by the changes in legislation as is hoped by the government or whether it will lead to an increase in binge drinking as is feared by many individuals especially in the medical profession remains a question of time.
The government sees crime and antisocial behaviors as consequences of binge drinking. As such, it does not consider it a public health problem. The medical professionals and academics see intoxication through alcohol consumption as the main cause of harm. In their view, any policy aimed at alcohol should address the impacts of acute alcohol misuse on health.
Among the issues that have been raised with regard to this is partnership between the government and the alcohol industry. The National Strategy and the White paper lay emphasis on the close collaboration with the alcohol industry.
However, the effectiveness of the policies may be compromised by this reliance on partnership according to the police, academics and clinicians. The effectiveness of the partnership with regard to reducing harm associated with alcohol consumption is being reviewed by the government. The industry on the other hand has set up various corporate social responsibilities.
The government also uses education as an important strand in its alcohol related harm reduction strategy. It views it as an important way of reducing binge drinking and altering the drinking culture in the United Kingdom. However, research indicate that changing drinking behavior through public information and school programs is not an easy task even though an increase in knowledge may be realized and attitudes may be altered (Babor et al, 2003).
Educational campaigns when integrated with other measures are more likely to be successful. For example, the drink and drive campaign which led to a remarkable change in attitude was accompanied by tough penalties and effective enforcement.
The effect of advertising on developing the culture of excessive and compulsive consumption of alcohol over a relatively short duration of time that specifically targets consumer groups on the basis of ethnicity, age, gender and affluence.
Debates over the role and influence of advertising on social issues has always been controversial and invariably clouded in supposition simply because the nexus between behavior and advertising is very difficult to establish.
The existence of marketing codes of practice and relevant regulatory regimes have failed to alleviate this fear. Certainly, there exists circumstantial evidence that show that advertising has an influence on the thought and behavior of consumer.
While advertising has the sole purpose of wooing the potential consumer to purchase a specific a specific good or service, this can only be possible if the advert has the potential of altering the emotional status of the customer in respect to the product presented.
Advertising companies are generally more institutionally and legally powerful and therefore unchallengeable when it comes to allegations that they truly corrupt individual choice. The belief that consumer sovereignty reigns is particularly false when the target market is known to possess no such ability to exercise consumer sovereignty(Hackley 2005).
Since children have not fully developed their cognitive abilities and are therefore not able to make informed choices with regard to the glory of alcohol consumption, they are more vulnerable to the alcohol marketing strategies that mainly target segmented groups of consumers differentiated by ethnicity, affluence, age, gender and the groups attitude to risk taking.
Anti alcohol groups such as Alcohol concern have been quick to point out advertising as a major predisposing factor in underage drinking and subsequently the progression to binge drinking among women and children (Hackley 2005). It is at this instance that advertising which leans towards social policy; which is essentially public policy regulation: pragmatic and political differs from ethics and morality.
Compulsive and excessive alcohol consumption is the most predominant result of depression in men as opposed to women who may resort to alcohol consumption due to other forms of compulsive behavior such as compulsive shopping, anorexia and a host pf other eating disorders (Hardill et al 2001).
It is therefore prudent that strategies put in place to improve male and female health by preventing a progression to binge drinking is to use innovative strategies that increase awareness on depression management.
When bar managers and staff were asked what actions they would take to help solve the problem of binge drinking, none of them even believed that the legal definition of binge drinking was representative of what really happens. Five of four units of alcohol as a basis of binge drinking clearly failed to reflect the average drinking patterns of the British populace which they believed to far more that what is legally perceived.
Moreover, they insisted that since they are always in the presence of the binge drinkers themselves, they had the ability to confront the problem before it progressed to anything worse. This is possible because they have the authority to desist from selling alcohol to an individual if such an individual has become considerably intoxicated. Ideally, this level of vigilance is to be trusted to prevent binge drinking tendencies among individuals of drinking age.
Since binge drinking is seasonally regulated, it is easy to know when individuals are likely to engage in binge drinking. In such cases the remedy is just to shut the door or rely on professional door supervisors who are entrusted the responsibility of effectively screening entrants. This is a precautionary measure against the consequences of binge drinking.
Moreover, the screening also serves as a deterrent to underage drinkers and trouble makers. Another way of curtailing binge drinking and its effects is to maintain the visibility of police presence. Such a form of vigilance not only offers the bar managers an extra level of assurance but also serves as deterrence to individuals who may resort to crime and violence after excessive alcohol consumption.
The Corporate sector has been instrumental in tackling the issue of excessive alcohol consumption because they also believe that they have a role to play in tackling social problems that arise in the society. As early as 1989, the drinks industry established the Portman Group which is the private sector self regulatory institution.
Through marketing and labeling of alcoholic beverages their aim has been to discourage marketing campaigns which not only encourage heavy drinking by those above the drinking age but also but also underage drinking (Hardie & Hobbs 2002).
Proper labeling of alcoholic products involves packaging in a manner that clearly communicates the nature and strength of the alcoholic product to the consumer. Moreover, the products name should have no association with dangerous, violent or any form of antisocial behavior.
In addition marketing and labeling strategies should not purport to convey the illusion that the product has the potential to increase the sexual prowess of the consumer (Rainstick & Hodgson 1999). All these strategies aim at discouraging irresponsible alcohol consumption like binge drinking, drink driving or drunkenness.
The police has always been at the crux of seeking a legal and an enforceable solution to the problem of binge drinking. From raiding pubs and bars for elements likely to propagate disruptive behaviors to checking out underage drinkers the enforcement of the legal age limit for alcohol consumption has always been viewed as the function of the police force.
Municipal and county legislations that prescribe the closing time for all the bars and pubs are also only enforceable when the police assume that role. Even though the responsibility of maintaining law and order is a primary responsibility of the police force, the society should also be able to uphold vigilance and shun any form of antisocial behavior among the youth.
The creation of a healthy communal existence cannot be left to the police and other law enforcement officers alone, the ordinary citizens should take responsibility in charting sustainable solutions to the binge drinking menace.
Social acceptability of binge drinking
Adolescent alcohol consumption has taken a worrying trend in many nations with a particularly chronic scenario being witnessed in the United Kingdom. Public and parental concern are ripe but adolescent use of alcohol and a host of other drugs in the pursuit of leisure and pleasure continues unabated.
Where as the society as a whole has been quick to shift responsibility to the youth for their weird dispositions, social acceptability of alcohol consumption and its associated end point; binge drinking has led to the creation of a culture of tolerance since adults occasionally and in the presence of the young engage in alcoholic beverage consumption as a leisure activity.
It therefore becomes curious when the adult population puts a press on the youth that they have to prove their adult status by way of age if they are to be permitted to engage in alcohol consumption for the same purpose of leisure and pleasure pursuit.
It is this attempted inhibition by the adults that has led to the onset of drinking at a considerably early age such that by the time childhood meets adolescence, youthful drinking sessions constitute binge drinking and can hardly be termed as experimentation (Cotterell 1996).
Social scientists agree that individual behaviors don not shape themselves in a vacuum but that such behaviors are shaped by the social environment and that they must conform to accepted cultural norms (Nuwer 2004).
Anthropological studies offer a concise exposition on the context of the formation of hazing behaviors. In this context, traditions, symbols, heroes, rituals , ceremonies and even sagas exist as central elements of culture while on the other hand, culture loosely refers to shared assumptions, beliefs and what is considered as normal behaviors in the society (Nuwer 2004).
Therefore it becomes rather myopic and parochial if we desist from inferring from the social and cultural norms as being determinative of individual behaviors because naturally, individual behaviors are a product of how society tolerates their actions and way of life.
More importantly culture is constitutive of ideologies, socio historical contexts and symbolic processes that guide individual behavior into conformity with accepted norms as well as making a sense of what individual perceive of as good and being in tandem with reality.
With reference to such analogy between culture and individual behavior, we can be able to understand the development of hazing behaviors which are usually exhibited by specific age groups and which are supported by cultural and social norms. Ideologies that support hazing behaviors stimulate their normalization in society.
For instance, it is culturally and socially prescribed that the onset of manhood must be accompanied by the exhibition of certain behavioral tendencies. It is on this basis that men’s drinking habits are tolerated and normalized.
Human beings naturally coalesce into definable groupings that are characterized by specific characteristics. Such characteristics have to spread through the group through mechanisms like peer pressure and social pressure. Such pressures promote the consumption of large quantities of alcohol.
When the physiological effects of alcohol manifest in terms of aberrant behaviors then they can no longer be disowned by the society since the society has a direct influence on the development of the habit of binge drinking in the first place.
Binge drinking has for a long time been left to mature into an accepted British way of life. Initially, drinking was only a preserve of the men folk while the society through its roles and duties which described gender seemed to prevent the womenfolk from engaging in alcohol consumption. It was believed and it has been scientifically proven that alcohol has more serious effects on females as opposed to males especially in cases where a woman is pregnant.
It is on this basis that women were prohibited from taking alcohol as it would considerably affect the developing of the child. With changing roles and duties, women are increasingly advancing into roles that were traditionally preserved for men.
In the same manner, their consumption patterns are also taking a paradigm shift. All these happen in the face of cultural and societal norms. The paradigm shift marks the changes that are happening in the society and since change cannot be put on hold, the traditional norms have to be modified to be at par with the post modern society’s way of life.
Binge drinking is a common term in the contemporary society even though there is no agreement on its actual definition. Various drinking patterns have been termed binge drinking which makes it a difficult behavior not only to trace but also to curb.
The use of the term has evolved from being an extended period of intoxication over a given period of days in the nineteen forties and fifties to an episode that can today be defined. Clearly, a great deal of confusion characterize the term which raises questions about its usefulness.
As much as quantitative definitions of binge drinking are often favored mainly because they allow for numerical counting and measuring of binge drinkers and binge drinking, there is no agreement as what the cut off should be.
Again, scientific basis for the adoption of the cut offs does not exist often leading to criticism of the number of fronts as being too simplistic. The cut offs not only vary from country to country but also within countries which makes it virtually impossible to make international comparisons.
The variation within countries is evidenced in the study conducted in the United Kingdom where the official surveys adopted cut offs that slightly differed. The prevailing policy context imposes the desire to label and measure a particular population which requires that the policies be based upon evidence for easy monitoring of targets and outcomes in terms of numbers.
However, many researchers have shown that the numbers are to some extent unreliable besides the evidence being far from robust.
The inability to provide a clear definition of binge drinking in the united Kingdom has exposed the term to numerous interpretations leading to the employment of different cut offs by major surveys on which major policies are to be based.
The consequence has been a wide array of statistics over a single subject. All these have led to the alarm and general confusion that is characteristic of binge drinking.
The credibility of the concept of binge drinking is also in question as current definitions which are used in the United Kingdom generalize the majority of the population as binge drinkers. Presently in the United Kingdom, there exists a large gap between the usual culture of young people spending five to six hours of their time within the confines of licensed premises and an ideal, often considered healthy, of taking less than four units in a single day.
The current definition of binge drinking by any standards will not classify these individuals. Even those individuals who fall within the definitions are likely to deny that they are binge drinkers. This situation become complicated with the uniformity in which the media represents binge drinking with almost certainly the same images representing fighting young men or a vulnerable and scantily dressed young woman.
This extreme nature of such pictures may not be likened to the experiences of the majority of binge drinkers and hence they do not consider this act as representing binge drinking. It does not make much sense classifying individuals who have taken anything from eight units for men and six for women with those who have probably taken more and hence extremely intoxicated.
Excessive drinking and drunkenness are often confused with binge drinking. This raises the question of whether it is important in practical or policy terms to refer to the majority as binge drinkers.
For instance, how can health care practitioners, within the context of scarce resources, respond to the need that arises from this classification? Could there be a possibility of individuals suffering from alcohol related harm being submerged among the mass of binge drinkers?
The definition which is currently adopted for binge drinking views policy issues as concerned only with the kind of drinking associated with high risks and not the general drinking patterns across the ages. Owing to this, binge drinking, however poorly it may be defined, satisfies a role within the policy world besides illustrating the tensions between science and policy.
As much as binge drinking may seem a familiar term for the majority of individuals, it is in reality a slippery concept that has defied precise definition especially within the United Kingdom’s policy arena. Binge drinking is an important concept in alcohol policy even though lack of consensus in exactly what is to be measured makes establishing an evidence base difficult.
This further complicates policy formulation leaving it to be based on a weak foundation. The meaning of the term varies with the agenda of the concerned institution and this lack of a shared meaning has the result of policy being pushed in different directions.
This lack of agreement makes a major contribution in misinterpretation of the problem hence lack of appropriate policy response. The process of achieving a common understanding cannot be aided by the politically motivated nature of the concept. It instead contributes to its mystification as the term is often used by policy makers, politicians and the media in such a way that it assumes a common understanding.
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