Saturday, 10 November 2007


I was sitting in the hairdressers waiting for my high-lights to cook, as you do, and leafing through an old magazine when I came upon an article about the "alcohol epidemic" amongst young drinkers in the UK. Frightening facts and scary statistics regarding alcohol induced illnesses, violence and deaths. Very worrying stuff.

It got me thinking about our current attitude to alcohol and social drinking in this country. Don't get me wrong, I am not anti-alcohol, I like a glass of wine or a gin as much as the next person (and occasionally more so, depending on the circumstances and who's driving), but I began to think back to my own youth when the object of going out on the town was to enjoy ourselves, maybe meet a nice chap, dance our arses off in some club and along the way have a few drinks. Just that, and in that order. We didn't go out with the express intention of "getting trashed". If we occasionally "had a little bit too much to drink" (as it was quaintly called then) it was just a by-product of having a good time, not the sole reason for going out in the first place. We suffered the hideous hang-over consequences, got a real good telling-off from our Mums, were laughed at by our work-mates, and vowed never to do it again. Or not often, anyway, and for several reasons - we couldn't afford it, for one, but also because puking over your brand new Faith platform boots (or even worse, someone else's) wasn't a requisite component of a good night out, just the occasional and embarrassing consequence of it. And, of course, lying in the gutter wth your skirt over your head wasn't considered a good look in those days.

So what has changed over the years? Obviously, a lot of younger people earn more so have a bigger disposable income with which to buy their fifteen pints of lager and ten Tequila shots (each) per night. In the interests of equality, girls have become more like lads in their capacity for drinking. But when did it become a foreseeable outcome, or even obligatory, to get so drunk and incapable that you don't know what you're doing any more, when did falling over pissed become the high spot of a night out, and when did putting yourself in such frequent and chronic danger become so acceptable, or even desirable?

And more worryingly, how have things come to this, and why? Why has drinking yourself into oblivion on a regular basis become de rigueur with the young? Walking down most main city streets on any weekend night will reveal to anyone in doubt that it's time for an attitude change on social drinking. So what is the solution and how can it be achieved?

Let me have your views on this, and reassure me that I'm not becoming a cantankerous old bag.

And please, don't even START me talking about drugs, one worry is enough for this week.


The Grocer said...

It's a bit early for this but here goes. My view is that as government and society/media have tinkered with "what's acceptable" it has become much harder for under age drinkers to get a drink in pubs and clubs. Now you need to produce ID etc because the licence holders are all shit scared of losing their licence. In our day you would go out on a Friday, under age, drink in a pub but not wish to stand out or get noticed because you were under age. Find a dark corner and have fun with your mates etc. As we were exposed to adults inside pubs and clubs who in the main behaved responsibly we learned to drink and behave reasonably responsibly. Now 16-17 year olds have street corners and their peers to contend with, they can't get into the pubs/clubs so are left drinking from off licences and home stolen hooch. Of course in this environment their behaviour will be worse because the adult controls are not around them. This behaviour becomes embedded and seen as the norm and then spills over into other drinking environments gradually changing the "norm" there too. An ID scheme for 16-17 year olds that allows them to go into clubs/bars and drink within limits (these could be preset into ID cards)might take kids off the streets and expose them to better standards of behaviour /more controls bringing about an improvement in beahviour.

Rainbow said...

The grocer's comments are interesting. I'm the parent and step-parent of teenagers who all have differing attitudes. My now 18-year-old stepson when 16 used to have it as the aim of a night out to get shit-faced, and has thrown up over his mother's and our floors on more than one occasion. Now it's legal he doesn't seem to bother so much. My daughter of the same age has always hated getting out of control - has always had a drink or three since the age of about 13, but rarely gets drunk. Our 15-year-old girls both seem to think it's cool to get rat-eyed, but I do think that's because it's not legal and so a guilty pleasure - but they're not allowed to hang around the streets with bottles of vodka as some of their mates do.

I do find it horrifying to see young girls completely out of it at 2 or 3 in the morning, when you just hope their mates get them home safely and they don't fall prey to the nearest lustful male. We had more respect for ourselves than that - yes, we did things we wouldn't necessarily want our children to do, but we had more self-control than they seem to do now. But if I'd come home in that state my parents would have locked me up for weeks - where are these kids' parents? I know that sounds contradictory given what I said about my stepson, but he's not our responsibility and I think his mother gave up on him. When my daughter got trashed she was long-term grounded and she is learning that there are limits. She's also learning it's OK say no to some of the things her friends do, which is no bad lesson.

The answer has got to begin with the parents and include the attitude to responsibility and respect at home. There's also a key point in what the grocer says - adults who in the main behaved responsibly. When that's no longer true, we've only got ourselves to blame. (Says she, hostage to fortune that both her girls get completely smashed at the party they're going to tonight!)

laurie said...

kids have always drunk illicitly. it might be more open than it used to be.

our paper did a big series on this about 10 years ago, and the 'new" finding was parental complicity, which i think is an interesting and important angle.

parents here will host drinking parties for kids because they think it's safer to have the kids at the house than driving around. of course these parties are illegal, and more than one kid has been killed driving away from the party. (and parents have been held accountable, and arrested.)

another angle to the series was spring break trips. spring break used to be a college thing, but now it's trickled down into the high schools. the wealthier families will let their kids go to mexico, where there is no drinking age, and sometimes a parent or two will go along as a chaperone but not really supervise anything.

so the suburban moms are drinking at the bar and flirting with the handsome mexican waiters while the teenagers are all at the beach doing jello shots.

so what's going on? i say, look to the parents.

Swearing Mother said...

As always, yours is a very interesting point, Grocer, and tallies with what I've noticed abroad where even young children are included in responsible family "drinking" at mealtimes with watered down wine etc. I suppose when they are old enough to visit bars, maybe this means that they don't go at it "pig at a tater" as one of my Black Country aunties used to say.

Hi Rainbow: I think all kids at some point or another are impressed by each other's capacity to get shit-faced, it's part of the folk-lore of growing up. What worries me a lot are the groups of younger people for whom getting shit-faced is a regular and normal way of daily life. As the Grocer so rightly says, maybe this is learned behaviour, dictated by circumstance. It certainly needs to be sorted out, and soon.

Hi Laurie, I totally agree with you about the lack of parental responsiblity when these binge-drinkers are young. Here in the UK it's almost a badge of honour to be rendered puking and unconscious at the end of a night out, as if it's something to be proud of. Although I hesitate to use the words "in my day" it has to be said that, although we all have stories of unbelievable drunkeness on a few occasions, these are the exception rather than the norm.

Jez Bell said...

It is a big big issue for young people - maybe to do with having less responsibilities and more money at a younger age, less parental control, cheaper booze, glitzier ads and directly targeting young people - and easier to drink alcohol. When I started drinking, it took some practice to get used to and even liking the taste - half a cider or lager would have to be diluted with lime or blackcurrant! I think the alcopops and sweeter drinks and drinks in bottles have been allowed to be so obviously targeted at teenagers. But - its not just young people who go binge drinking - go out in our nearest city and you're as just about as likely to see groups of mainly women in their 30s, 40s, and I daresay 50s, worse for wear - and dressing and acting like teenage trouble makers themselves. I too like a good time as much as the next 30-something but i think somethings happened to the definition of a good time. I think its a much wider social problem in the UK.

Tina said...

It's terrifying, SM, & I think the blame lies with us. Well not me & you, obviously, but parents. Do we encourage our children to drink responsibly? Or in this day & age, do we actually consider drinking to be one of the lesser evils that our children may come into contact with?

I like a drink as much as the next woman, but children (because that's what they are) need to see what it does to you. I think they should put my 'morning after' face on alcohol bottles.

Now SM, about the drugs...

Swearing Mother said...

Hi Jez. Yes, I agree with you that binge-drinking seems to be a problem which can affect all ages but I suppose I'm more worried about the effect on younger drinkers because they seem so vulnerable at times, and they don't know any better. It's a sad indictment of our times when, like you say, they feel they can only have a good time if totally trashed. There must be more to their young lives than that, surely.

Hiya Tina, I think you are right when you say we may view alcohol as one of the less serious risks our kids face, even though it's the easiest to get hold of and probably most used. It's all gone a bit too far I reckon.

Stew said...

For what its worth, when I was in my teens getting shit faced was the target of our evenings. That was 30 years ago. Every now and then one of our gang would get a girlfriend and not play with us. Whereapon we would rip him mercilessly. There were a few who considered their relationships with girls to be more important than getting legless with us. Bizare!

I don't think the world changes much. I hope my kids have a lot more sense than I did, but I also wish them the same levels of good luck I had. Some of our sessions could have ended disasterously. There was often blood and unconsiousness. Death was often in the wings.

Swearing Mother said...

Crikey Stew, that sounds a bit scarey! I know it's inevitable that our kids will do similar things to us, and I suppose that's what worries me a bit. I suppose it's a case of fingers crossed?

Nice to meet you, and thanks for visiting.

Stew said...

Hey, it wasn't big and it wasn't clever.
One of the problems we humans have is evaluating risk. So we'll cut down on our consumption of red meat for fear of a heart-attack but happily jump in the car and drive on the M25, or drink 6 beers or get pregnant. These last 3 are apparantly very high risk undertakings indeed. (At least googling it was scary)

Norman said...

Hi SM. Yup. I'm back in Blighty and Thole Man's blog is active agin. The place I was at in larnaka has no electricty at the mo so no internet and at 50 cents for 10 mins at an internet cafe is barely enough to sort out my SPAM.
Anyway the Cyprus adventure is now being unfolded on a blog near you....
HE's BACK !!!!
...just when you thought it was safe...?
Thanks for your concern BTW.

merry weather said...

Hideous hang-over consequences - yes I remember those. The days of remorse and embarrassment...

Perhaps it is partly because of the shift in social behaviour but mainly down to the parents who teach their kids to get whatever they want, without question.

Hey, I have all these problems to come!

travelling, but not in love said...

My apartment block backs on to a student residence here in Lyon.

Trust me, the French kids know how to drink as well as any British kids I've seen. They drink lots, smoke tons and always (always) have a good supply of weed.

What they don't do, is get pissed in the streets, fight with their mates and get filmed by channel 5 camera crews.

They just seem to have a bit more class.

However, I'm not really one to talk about class when it comes to drinking - my local in the UK used to do a 99p gin and tonic. And let's be honest, while ever the 99p gin and tonic is on sale I'm never going to stop binge drinking.

Swearing Mother said...

Everything's a risk Stew, I know, but some things are more worth it than others I suppose.

NORMAN!! Thought you'd left me for another woman, or been kidnapped and held as a sex-slave in Cyprus. Will be over ASAP to catch up with the goss. So glad you're back. There had better be plenty of new sketches and photos.

Hi Merry, oh yes it's a worry alright, but only because we remember our own antics at their age. But to a lesser degree maybe?

Hi Travelling: I'm just a worried Mum really and I don't think I quite understand the attraction of binge-drinking. It just seems to be too much, too often, and I wonder why. Maybe it's just because they can. And don't even start me on the subject of weed, every time my son comes home from uni, just sorting his washing gets me high. Another thing to worry about.

Take care.

Stinking Billy said...

You seem to have hit a jackpot there with boozing, s.m. but as a septuagenarian binge drinker I can't get myself riled up on the subject.

I called by hoping for a few four-letter words from an expert (I need to hear some every now and again in my sterile existence), but the nearest you came was 'backsides'. What sort of swearing mother are you, anyway? ;-)

Swearing Mother said...

OK Stinking Billy, just for you I'll change "backside" to "arse".

Happy now? :o)

travelling, but not in love said...

Oddly enough I can sympathise with you worrying about sons away at university - my mother is my 'absent adolescent'....

She's nearly seventy and I worry about what she gets up to when I'm not there.

She's got a new boyfriend and he takes her to concerts at Dudley town hall and other such treats.

I just hope she's careful.

Mid-lifer said...

Even during my punk years and unviersity, I never drank very much - to be honest, I couldn't afford it - so how can the yoof today?

It was an expat lifestyle and more to the point motherhood that got me reaching for vats full of the stuff.

And I've just drained a huge glass now, but I have an excuse - at least that's what I tell myself: see my latest post (cheap plug to get you to visit!)

Swearing Mother said...

Hello Travelling: Don't worry about your Mum, she's very unlikely to get into trouble at her age, bless her. Although, these days, with HRT and everything........

Mid-lifer, hi! Will be over ASAP to see what you've been up to!

The Ex said...

I drank a ton in high school and the early years before I turned 21. But never with the intent of as you say lying in the gutter with my skirt up. It was always just for fun.

I try to imagine drunk 16/17 year olds on the corner here in America but thankfully I can't. I hate to sound like an old hag but you're just not old enough to drink at that age!

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

After the posts I've been writing, I don't know if I'm qualified to write about this. In my 20s I used to get drunk to the point of illness most weekends. This probably had a lot to do with not weighing very much at the time and not eating very much at the time. That stopped when I gave up spirits. Now I weigh more, eat more, and drink less.

Still, that doesn't mean I think it's OK for my son and daughter to drink that way. I've already told them I won't be supplying them or their friends with alcohol till they're 18. I know a woman who bought a bottle of vodka for her then-15-year-old daughter to take to a party. Her rationale? She figured the daughter would be drinking anyway, and this way no one would be tampering with her drink. Pretty weak, I think.

My kids had the drugs lectures at school. But they didn't hear much about alcohol, or about watching their drinks when they're out to make sure no one tampers with them. As they get older and more aware of what I do, I find myself thinking twice about my own drinking. I've cut back dramatically, and could one day be tee-total, you never know.

Self employed mum said...

When I was a teenager we went to pubs, enjoyed our nights and went home, as I reached my 20's fortunately I had the future hubby to make sure I got home safely. I never did drink alcohol in the house unless we have a party or a few friends over, other than that I prefer tea! how sad, then last October I went to my nieces 18th birthday party in the house and if I had been out would have sworn someone put something in my drink, I went from semi sober to unconcious, was sick all down myself in the car on the way home with the children in the back! Hubby was driving, for clarification and have never drunk since, I was 34! I have had the odd glass of wine or alcopop, I think I even stretched to 4 one night on holiday, but anytime we go out, I take my car. I got the biggest fright of my life. Hopefully this will have put my children off, I will in the future allow my children to taste/drink alcohol when I feel they are ready. I would rather they drunk in their own house than behind my back on a street corner.

In our village the children drink Buckfast and then get into huge fights with each other. I have warned, probably even scared my children, from a young age about the dangers of alcohol. It's very scary my son is nearly 11 and you hear of children smoking, having sex and drinking at this age, luckily my son as no desire to hang about the streets, long may it continue.

I too blame the parents, some of my sons friends are out playing until 9.30, my son is in his bed by 8.30. My war cry is 'these boys will end up in trouble, just wait and see'

Flowerpot said...

I didnt drink at all until I was in my 20s - I couldnt afford it and none of my friends could either. Perhaps the odd half of cider. Then I moved to London, started working in advertising and got into drinking and drank far too much - I would hate my kids to do that. Now I cant drink more than a glass or two on an empty stomach which is a good thing and I hate hangovers, so that helps a lot! I'm horrified by kids getting completely wrecked and on a regular basis.

Ellee Seymour said...

I think the problem is a combination of things, it then becomes a habit and an addiction. I automatically feel like a glass of wine if I hear good news and want to celebrate, shouldn't I have a coffee instead? That's the expectation element. A lot of it is to do with attitudes and behaviour that become firm beliefs and habits which are hard to break.
We see a lot of drinking on TV too, all our soaps are based around pubs, so it looks cool to drink. We have to consider the role models which parents play too, they are so important.

Swearing Mother said...

Hi The Ex, Wakeup, SEM, Flowerpot and Ellie, thanks so much for your extremely interesting comments. I think we're all singing from the same hymn sheet here, by the looks of it.

I think there's a huge difference between what we all probably did, (and sometimes still do in my case) i.e., having more drink that we should on occasions, to consciously and deliberately setting out to get plastered, and not stopping until you do (I've done that too, once or twice, but only for a very good reason). What concerns me about the people who go out with the express intention of getting seriously drunk on a regular basis, i.e, sitting in a bus-shelter working their way through several six packs of cheap cider and a bottle of own-brand vodka, or drinking themselves into oblivion in a bar or club every time they go out. The question is, why do they need to do this? Similarly the crowds of older people for whom enough is never enough, it's not a good night out unless they've had a fight, thrown up or ended up in Casualty. Or worse.

Life must be so empty of anything worth doing if this is their idea of a good time. So, so sad. Maybe that's the root of the problem.

Marla Fauchier Baltes said...

First stop by your blog. Lots of interesting posts here. I will be stopping back! I have never been much of a drinker till I had to live in New Jersey for a year. Now that I moved I don't seem to want to drink again. As for my daughter...I hope she never touches the stuff.

Amy said...

I was at a talk last year given by a popular doctor in the U.S., Dr. Drew Lipinski. He got the college-age kids talking about why they get hammered. The consensus seemed to be that unless they were completely out of it, guys and girls are too afraid of each other. You have the excuse after your hook-up that you were drunk, so your appallingly promiscuous behavior is somehow excusable. And if you find you don't like the person you just got naked and wet with, you again have the drunk excuse. Apparently drunken, barely memorable sex is better than rejection.

I was never a big drinker. Part of that was my parents. I didn't want to disappoint them by behaving badly. I wanted their approval. Besides, my dad drank more than he should have, and I didn't want to be like that. Also, I am completely neurotic about puking. So, maybe if we instill some psychological disorders in our kids, they will be less inclined to imbibe.

These kids have no shame. They need some.

Oh, I tagged you on my blog.

Norman said...

I'll just add my pennyworth to this.
Cyprus has a drinking culture too. After all, good wine is very cheap at Cy£1 per litre, that's about £1.25 sterling. Cyprus lager is around Cy£1 a litre bottle so booze is very cheap and readily obtainable. Everyone has a good time. We all take in enough to loosen our tongues and inhibitions but getting totally bladdered is just not acceptable. The Cypriots are a very sociable bunch but if you get so pissed that you're throwing up on the pavement then you are socially dead. Aggressive behaviour is quickly dealt with by the local police; its 24 hours in jail and no questions asked.
Stangely enough its mainly the Brits in the tourist quarter who attract this sort of attention.

Swearing Mother said...

Maria, hi! Lovely to read you, I've been looking at your blog for a while now and enjoyed it. Thanks very much for your comment.

Hello Amy, that's a very interesting idea re the way alcohol may create a shield to hide behind in the dating game. I think that's probably true in a way. If you make a mistake, you can always say it's the fault of the demon drink I suppose!

Hi Norman, that's exactly what I was initially thinking about, the cultural differences about attitude to alcohol. Despite all the tinkering with pub opening times, duty on spirits, restrictions on advertising, etc., the basic problem is still with us. Too much, too often, too young. And why?

Flowerpot said...

In response to your last question, swearing mother, it's the way we're brought up isn't it? As norman said, in Cyprus it just isnt cool to pass out on the pavement. Here it is. Sad.

Swearing Mother said...

Flowerpot, sadly I think you are right. I read and article last week about parents taking it in turns to "do a line of coke" whilst the other one tends the kids. Mums who had to pour away breast milk down the sink until their "high" wore off and left their blood stream and breast milk. Posh, middle class, professional families at that.

I was shocked. I can remember, when I was feeding our kids, refusing to eat a curry in case it upset their little tummies. Now you can snort coke apparently and think it's alright. Bloody hell.

I fear for the future, I really do.

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

I didn't drink much when I was at uni. It never tasted good to me and so I was completely turned off it until much later. Then I joined a profession where everyone drank quite copiously. It was part of the culture and totally acceptable. Often we would travel abroad on assignments together and it would start at the airport, on the plane and back at the hotel. God knows how we survived it.

I see all walks of life over indulging now not just the youth. Disposable income and cheaper drinks make it all the more accessible. I do think also that there is what is called in sociological terms as 'Moral Panic'. The press take a subject and over expose it to such a point that we are to be forgiven for thinking that society is off to hell in a hand cart.

I guess I would like to study more stats before I would make up my mind that there really is a serious problem. We have much more exposure to these kinds of stories these days and whilst they are distasteful I know that there are many many youngsters out there who don't rely on alcohol to have a good time.

I also think that whilst some people will go on to become alcohol dependent, there will be many that will get this 'right of passage' out of their system and become sensible drinkers.

We can only hope that this is so but I believe that we live in a society where every need must be satiated immediately. We have a celebrity culture where so many people believe it is their right to have anything they want and not because they worked for it.

Good topical blog old girl!

Swearing Mother said...

MOB! Sorry I didn't see this comment until now, my comment counter is up the shoot.

I suppose my worries re the young are because my kids are of an age and culture where it affects them. My son is at a university where two students died over the past year due to alcohol abuse, and last week another friend lost a daughter after a night of binge drinking, which focussed my attention somewhat, as you can imagine. We have lost many young people to drink related accidents/traumas around here, so it's a topic close to home and has been for a while. A walk down Broad Street on a Saturday night conveys more than any tabloid newspaper ever could, but you do need to watch out for the pavement pizzas!

We too used to drink a fearsome amount when we were younger, but not every night and on every occasion, and although I understand the urge to "tie one on" occasionally, the habitual need to get paralytic (as opposed to merrily pissed) is the thing that concerns me most. Or maybe I'm missing something, maybe unconsciously inhaling your own vomit is still the rock n roll "way to go".

I dunno. Attending that girl's funeral made me wonder about a lot of things.

Swearing Mother said...

And also my spelling is "up the chute"" as well!