Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Alcohol Education and Research Council’s symposium on home drinking

It would appear that some discussion not motivated by political dogma of the issue of home drinking has been going on ... there are some great statistics from the symposium from research report in Addiction journal, based on interviews with ‘ill drinkers’ in Edinburgh. As reported in the Morning Advertiser.

"The report’s aim is to support the case for minimum pricing by trying to demonstrate that it will have a significant effect among heavy drinkers in reducing their consumption. I’m not sure it succeeds — and neither, for that matter, are its authors — but some fascinating stuff is thrown up in the process.
The interviewees, patients at two hospitals in the city, were very heavy drinkers indeed, sinking an average of nearly 200 units a week, equivalent to 100 pints of cooking bitter or, more realistically but no less frighteningly, a bottle of vodka a day.
Quite a number exceeded 300 units. One managed 800 units. That’s what I call a drink problem. They were paying an average of 43p a unit, comfortably below the 50p a unit touted as a minimum – and that’s only the average. Cheapest unit price paid was 9p – for two-litre bottles of white cider in the supermarket.
Compared with the general Scottish population the patients were paying 29p less per unit and there was a clear inverse correlation between the amount consumed and the price paid for it, right down the line.
If it’s just the ethanol you’re after that’s rational behaviour, of course. And if the report demonstrates anything, it is that drinking at these undoubtedly dangerous levels is largely an off-trade issue.
Only a quarter of respondents bought any drink at all in the pub or club, and on-trade purchases account for a mere 7.4% of total units consumed.
“Our clinical experience,” say the researchers, “acquired unsystematically from drinkers’ self-reports, suggests that it is sometimes preferable for a dependent drinker to drink in a pub or club where there are external controls on the amount consumed and the level of intoxication and also possible mental health benefits of social interaction.”
Intuitively, this has to be correct, but you crave something more scientific to back it up and, as yet, it doesn’t seem to exist. Which is what makes the AERC symposium interesting, and I look forward to reading the briefing paper that comes out of it, to see what I missed.
As for whether minimum pricing, or any other price constraint, can reduce consumption, the report is honest enough to say that we can’t know until we try it. Charging 9p a unit can’t be right. But price is only one factor in a "multiplicity of determinants that cause people to drink like this."
How can HMG ignore such findings and refuse to do something about the reckless behaviour of supermarkets? Still an administration that keeps putting off scrapping Trident (cost estimated to be £25 billion) whilst imposing the biggest cuts in living history to other public services (if you can call Trident a public service) is hardly surprising!

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