Public revulsion is the answer to alcohol problems

He is only 14 and admits he’s already on the edge of alcoholism”.

That was the opening line on a feature about a young drunk which I wrote for an alcohol awareness week nearly 30 years ago when the purchase age was 20.

The theory behind lowering the age to 18 was that it would reduce the scarcity excitement about drinking and result in a better attitude towards it.

It hasn’t worked and in response to growing public concern it is possible that the law will change again.

Raising the off-licence purchase age for alcohol to 20 while keeping the on-licence age at 18 may do a little to reduce the problem of  people who are younger than 18 getting access to alcohol.

But it won’t solve the real problem because it’s addressing a symptom not the cause.

The immature attitude too many have to alcohol and binge drinking is the real problem and changing that requires a change in culture.

We’re not the only country with an alcohol problem. Theodore Dalrymple writes in The Express:

. . .there is little doubt that public drunkenness in Britain now reduces the quality of life of millions of its citizens. Something that is tolerable in a few becomes intolerable and tiresome as a mass phenomenon. . . There is hardly the centre of a town or city in the country in which scenes of drunken debauchery are not enacted at the weekends, imposing a virtual curfew on those who wish  neither to participate in nor witness them (and this includes drinkers like me). . .

. . . In many European countries the British are now known mainly for the vileness of their drunken  behaviour. They are, in my view justifiably, held in hatred and contempt. . .

People in Britain often describe the night before as having been a really good one, the chief evidence for which is that they drank so much that they can remember nothing about it. But such brutish drunkenness is not a sign of people having enjoyed themselves, it is a sign that they do not know how to enjoy themselves, which is very sad. . .

The column is worth reading in full because it could just as easily have been written about New Zealanders and because Dalrymple has a lesson from history which could help us now.

He makes the point that in the second half of the 19th century drunkenness declined, not because of any action by government but because of public revulsion towards it.

It’s no longer socially acceptable to smoke in enclosed public spaces – and many private ones – nor to drive drunk. There is still a long way to go with both of these but a change in attitude towards both smoking and driving drunk is changing behaviour for the better. It could work for drunkenness and all the problems associated with it too.

Regardless of what changes are made to the purchase age, we won’t have a real improvement until we make it socially unacceptable to binge drink and indulge in other anti-social alcohol-fuelled behaviour.

The law change might address one or two symptoms but  it will take public revulsion to change the attitude and thereby address the cause.

5 Responses to Public revulsion is the answer to alcohol problems

  1. Andrei says:

    I think fiddling with the laws surround alcohol is just spitting into the wind.

    Alcohol has been with us since the stone age and there are very few people in New Zealand over 25 who haven’t had a bender or two in their youth.

    Most learn from this fairly quickly and don’t repeat it – a few don’t unfortunately.

    Compared to Russia New Zealand is a sober society and this points to an interesting fact that there is a geographical correlation between alcoholism and latitude – those countries with long dreary winters tend to have greater alcohol issues than those at lower latitudes with more benign climates.

    Make of that what you will.


  2. gravedodger says:

    I despair that any real progress will be made to solve the problem of alcohol abuse while we continue to put draconian controls on aquisition of the juice, penalising the suppliers whether actually guilty of anything other than failing to observe or predict behavior of consumers, all the while totally ignoring the elephant in the room that is the behaviour of the DRUNK.
    I am firmly of the opinion that a drunk must be forced to confront the fact that because they have ingested too much alcohol they are responsible for the outcomes.
    How often is being under the influence of excess alcohol used as mitigation of illegal or unacceptable behaviour. Assault, property damage, nuisance, wasting police time, trespass, disorderly behavior, to name a few are deemed by defense counsel to be mitigated by excess alcohol at pre sentence hearings. I say “Complete Bollocks” to that, being under the influence should be the opposite and attract a higher penalty.
    I know I am in a minority when I advocate the return of the offence of “drunk in a public place” but a few hours in a detox facility with very spartan facilities may be a cheaper option in the short term and give the opportunity to those who indulge to excess a chance to review their options.
    Put the responsibility where it lies on the over-indulger.


  3. Andrei says:

    Put the responsibility where it lies on the over-indulger.

    Words fit to be inscribed in stone


  4. adam2314 says:

    Andrei says.

    ” I think fiddling with the laws surround alcohol is just spitting into the wind. “.

    HP says ” Public Revulsion ” is the answer..

    Spitting by Asians ( when they arrived in numbers ) in NZ was met by ” Public Revulsion “.

    It has worked…

    HP maybe you are onto something..

    Drunks in public used to be frowned upon at one time..
    and even arrested and charged..

    Time to turn the clock back ???..


  5. Timeless info. I can’t tell you how often we discuss topics like this in group. If drunks are seekers why are they so lost. And if they are just hiding, why do they always get found.


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