Oe have all heard the refrain: ‘Britain has a drinking problem’. It’s such a long problem is anterior the Covid-19 pandemic, but the evidence for this claim seems more evident than ever. Millions of people were drinking at harmful levels while stuck at home during the lockdown, and deaths from alcohol – mostly from liver disease – hit a 20-year high in 2020. closure of vital support services also contributed, with higher rates of relapses and fewer referrals doctors and hospitals, while a large number of long-term patients consume problematic amounts of alcohol, a small study suggested.
The causes of these patterns seem equally clear: the extreme stress, boredom, trauma and isolation of a protracted and dangerously mismanaged pandemic, in combination with the UK crisis deeply rooted drinking culture and the general human propensity for the relaxing properties of alcohol. These demand-side factors are key to understanding alcohol consumption here – or elsewhere. Beer, wine and spirits are not unilaterally imposed on the British public, but consumed with enthusiastic participation by drinkers.
But what we don’t talk about enough is the influence of supply-side contributors on our domestic consumption: namely, the incredibly powerful multinational corporations that produce and sell alcohol for huge profits. , including brewers (such as AB InBev and Heineken), distillers (such as Diageo and Pernod Ricard) and off-trade and on-trade retailers (such as Tesco and Stonegate, respectively). Alcohol has an extremely long and complex history, but its growing ubiquity is largely the product of its commodification and deregulation by Big Alcohol.
The industry and its army of professional associations and front groups are constantly jostling to increase consumption, market share and profits, manipulating and influencing prices and taxation, licensing and retail density, advertising and sponsorships, international trade agreements, obscuring scientific discoveries and delaying public health efforts. Rather than being subjected to intense tobacco-like restrictions, the alcohol industry has so far fought successfully to maintain “self-regulationand offloading the responsibility for alcohol-related harm onto “problematic” individual consumers, notably through the discourse of “responsible drinking”.
But alcohol-related harm is not limited to addicts (about 600,000 people in England alone). Even relatively low doses of alcohol consumed regularly increase the risk of health problems, including digestive and cardiovascular diseases, traumatic injuries, and cancers of the esophagus, liver, and breast; a recent study estimated that almost 750,000 new cancer cases in 2020 were attributable to alcohol consumption worldwide, of which around 100,000 were due to “moderate consumption”. Previously publicized claims that alcohol, particularly red wine, performs a ‘protective’ function for conditions such as heart disease and diabetes are also in doubt and now considered compensated by the monotony [closely correlated] links with cancer.
The alcohol-related harm crisis is primarily caused by the fact that the for-profit alcohol industry structurally incentivizes high-risk drinking. Industry revenue would fall by 38%, or £13billion a year, if all drinkers consumed alcohol below the recommended guidelines, according to a study. Companies clearly have a vested interest in preventing such reductions, but it is exactly this type of structural change – rather than voluntary and ineffective measures favored by industry – needed to seriously reduce alcohol harm.
Public health organizations, such as the World Health Organization, have long called for measures to reduce the power of the alcohol lobby by banning advertising, limiting retail density and hours, and increasing taxes and minimum unit price. Other policies along these lines include mandatory nutrition information and warning labels, prohibiting industry involvement in policy development and coordination of global restrictions to limit predatory capital flight. The pursuit of profit, the driving force behind the constant expansion of consumption, should also be curbed by an increase public property production and retail. But restrictions alone will not suffice.
We also desperately need to start a conversation around real alternatives to its use. For starters, there must be a massive expansion of free, public alcohol-specific health care for high-risk drinkers who do not require sobriety as a condition of use, including managed alcohol programstherapy, medical treatment and psychiatric care. This should also include the public development of desirable alternatives such as “synthetic alcohol”, the legalization and regulation of low-risk psychotropicsand the promotion of public spaces that are not exclusively oriented around alcohol consumption.
Ultimately, it’s about expanding opportunities for relaxation, socialization, and fun in a way that doesn’t end up killing, hurting, or hurting. This is undoubtedly a huge undertaking given Big Alcohol’s dominance of global politics, discourse and imagination. Radical and systemic political action is urgently required if we are to have any chance of solving Britain’s great alcohol problem – or we will continue to mourn it.