Thursday, 19 April 2012

Does the media have a drink problem?

What is it with the media and binge drinking? No, not the stereotype of the ever thirsty roving reporter, but the coverage of drinking culture in England.

One need only do a quick Google trawl of newspapers such as The Sun or the Daily Mail, to see how much they love to regale us with reports of 'Binge Britain'.

But digging behind the source for today's Daily Mail report on the amount of lives that could be saved through a minimum price on alcohol, shows a glass half full, rather than completely empty.

What doesn't get as much coverage is that binge drinking in Britain has been on the decline. As shown in the graph, cribbed from a fantastic briefing on alcohol statistics from the House of Commons. (H/T Straight Statistics).

For men aged 16-24 it has been declining since 1998, a pretty long-term trend rather than one being related solely to penny pinching where pints are concerned in these tricky economic times.

Indeed, as pointed out by the King's Fund's John Appleby in a piece for the British Medical Journal, real terms spending has also been falling, save for a small rise in the last year.

So we are apparently binging less and spending less, so what's all the fuss about?

Well, hospital admissions related to alcohol have been on the rise. But rather than suggesting that the reduced amount of booze we are getting down us is actually worse for us, the time lag involved with some of the conditions (alcoholic liver disease, or mental problems associated with alcohol) suggest the admissions shouldn't necessarily mirror each binge drinking numbers.

But what about the louts and loutettes who, so the reporting goes will, be leaving a trail of destruction from town centres to A&E departments across the land this weekend?

Sadly the House of Commons paper only mentions that booze is a factor in 70 per cent of emergency attendances between midnight and 5am at weekend.

Sure enough this will be a drain on NHS resources, but what it doesn't tell us is the problem getting better or worse? More digging needs to be done, but will update with anything I find.

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