Glasgow must not just brush off its binge drinking crown - Stephen Jardine

News just in, we’re good at something. In fact people in Glasgow are better at this than just about anyone else in the UK. Drinks all round to celebrate because the special skill turns out to be binge drinking.

Jagerbombs could have a serious impact on binge drinking, according to research. Picture: Edward Simpson (CC BY 2.0)
Jagerbombs could have a serious impact on binge drinking, according to research. Picture: Edward Simpson (CC BY 2.0)

Glasgow is second only to Stoke on Trent in terms of residents who can’t moderate their consumption according to a survey for the alcohol charity Help Me Stop. Coming hard on the heels of new figures showing Scotland continues to be the drug death capital of Europe, it is yet another grim statistic for our public health.

At least the drugs crisis is recognised and politicians are falling over each other to launch initiatives and throw money at the problem but the drink crisis is tolerated, if not accepted.

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The pandemic hasn’t helped. Licensing laws now make it hard to end up drunk in pubs and clubs. If the cost doesn’t deter customers the prospect of premises losing their licence for serving the inebriated has put the brakes on public drinking, but in private it is a different matter.

With bars and pubs shut during the pandemic, the focus shifted to drinking at home where the units poured are often larger and closing time never comes.

In 2019, deaths from alcohol in Scotland dipped for the first time in many years but it was still a factor in over a thousand people losing their lives. We’ve yet to discover what effect lockdown will have on the figures but a recent poll by YouGov for Drinkaware showed 13% of people are consuming more alcohol now than before the pandemic. The knock on effect of that waits for us down the road.

There are some reasons for future optimism. Amongst younger people, alcohol consumption is plummeting. A study in England suggested a third of youngsters under 25 now don’t drink and almost half of university students regularly socialised without alcohol.

Health and wellbeing seems to be a key driver in this along and fewer young drinkers also means less peer pressure to just-have-another-one.

That could spell long term change but it won’t happen without a fight. Just as the tobacco giants scrapped over every inch of territory to protect their falling sales, the booze business will twist and turn to hold onto market share.

Wherever young people gather and socialise, expect alcohol marketing to be pushy and prominent. As the slimmed down Edinburgh Fringe gets underway this weekend, forget heading to the Mound to see the usual buskers and street performers. Instead their place has been taken by a pop up bar. The big brands are no doubt already planning how much they can get away with at this year’s Christmas Markets.

The Scottish Government is doing it’s best to nudge behaviour with minimum pricing and plans for calorie labelling on bottles but it can’t afford to take it’s eye off the ball.

Drug deaths grab the headlines for very good reasons but the damage done by alcohol is even more widespread and pervasive in society.

Some people will say, ‘give us a break and just let us have some fun and enjoy ourselves’. But try telling that to the families of the 22 Scots who die and the hundreds who are hospitalised every week due to alcohol. That’s when the fun stops.

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