Too much alcohol…

There’s been a lot of talk in the news recently about proposals to tackle the negative impact of excess alcohol consumption by introducing a minimum unit price. Plans to introduce supporting legislation are already in motion in the Scottish Parliament and David Cameron appears keen to introduce a similar system in England.

As it’s the health and emergency services that tend to bare the brunt of the problems that stem from people drinking themselves into a stupor, I dare say that changes aimed at tackling the issue will be welcomed.

To illustrate why binge drinking causes such an issue for us, and by extension for the public who foot the bill, consider these examples to show how alcohol regular impacts on the service we are able to offer-

Example one – An aggressive, drunken male is brought into custody.

As drunks rarely see reason, repeated requests for him to leave a location have been ignored and as such he has had to be forcibly restrained and arrested. Additional officers have to escort him to the cell block and ensure that he is admitted into custody safely. A medical practitioner has to be called to attend the station to assess when the male will be fit to be dealt with and will likely say that he’ll need six or seven hours to sober up. Welfare checks will need to be conducted at regular intervals and should he begin with withdraw from alcohol, officers may be called back to the station to escort him to hospital thereby committing them for several hours.

Example two – A drunken female is the victim of a domestic assault

We attend and an arrest is made. As soon as the prisoner has been allocated a cell we return to the scene with a view to obtaining a statement. As the female is intoxicated we take a short ‘holding statement’ confirming that she would like to pursue a complaint but is too drunk to provide an account at the current time. As such rather than being able to investigate the matter there and then, other officers have to re-attend later to talk to her when sober. A statement may eventually be obtained although its accuracy is likely compromised as she struggles to remember the particulars of the assault. Meanwhile the prisoner occupies a valuable cell space.

Example three – In the early hours of the morning officers encounter a drunken female slumped on the pavement after a night out

Being vulnerable and alone, we have a duty to ensure that the girl makes it home safely. There’s no sign of her friends and she’s barely able to tell us her name, let alone where she lives. What are we able to do? If her condition justifies it an ambulance will be called and she’ll end up taking a place in the queue at A&E. If we are able to get some sense out of her we do our best to reunite her with her friends who can take care of her. Either way officers have been tied up with a problem self-inflicted by drinking too much.

Examples such of these will be familiar to officers across the country and as you can imagine, can pose a significant strain on our resources. Whilst we’re spending time sorting out similar issues, we’re not able to answer the calls for service that urgently need our attention.

Solutions don’t come easily but when people’s lives are at risk – an estimated 200,000 avoidable alcohol related deaths over the next twenty years – we are compelled to find an answer.

In my view minimum pricing is certainly a step in the right direction. I’ll not name the brands but most of the problem drinkers we encounter are found necking the same products, favoured for their balance between bargain price and high alcoholic content.

The strategy is far from an elixir though and if we are to be successful in saving the legion of those at risk from excessive alcohol consumption, I can see that the following considerations will be equally as important -

  • Good support network to address alcoholism and its causes – Pricing alcohol so that it is outside people’s ability to binge on it should help but why do people want to binge in the first place? We already have charities such as Addaction working inside our cell blocks, and where drinkers accept that they have an issue and genuinely want to change, success can be achieved with dedicated counseling and medical support.*
  • Responsible retailing – The Licensing Act provides a good framework for the sale of alcohol and gives us power to deal with issues arising from problem selling. Traders – particularly off licences – have an important role to play as they stand at the very source of the problem and more confidence in turning away problem customers may help.
  • Tackling our drinking culture -  The big issue and one to which there’s no ready answer – why is it that in the UK drinking to excess is seen to be synonymous with having a good time? Why can alcohol be sold cheaply on the Continent and not attract problems on the scale that we see here?

With the cost of alcohol related crime estimated at around £15 billion a year, the total spend including health care and loss of productivity perhaps being as high as £25 billion and when there’s such an economic need to make savings, both the financial and human costs of the issue have to be addressed conclusively. To put these figures into context, we spent around £5 billion on policing last year.

Minimum pricing will hopefully help, no one’s saying it will solve the problem alone, however with such a crippling expense any step towards tackling alcohol abuse is a step in the right direction.

*On the subject of support charities, I was recently doing a cell watch on a prisoner who told me he drinks thirty pints of beer a day. He also told me that he had voluntarily submitted himself to an alcohol clinic and was slowly seeing improvements – there was light at the end of the tunnel.

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7 Responses to “Too much alcohol…”


  1. 1 Alistron1 06/03/2012 at 08:36

    Some fair points there, but I just need to point out that whether a victim of crime is drunk or not they are still a victim of crime (wrt domestic assault) and are surely not a drain on resources? I used to work in the pub trade and I remember 2 things that changed the way ‘we’ drink 1) All day opening and 2) Alcopops. Pubs were never the same after that, issues surrounding violence/ASB increased and nowadays I’d rather stay at home with a cup of tea rather than go to a pub ;)

    • 2 PC Richard Stanley 06/03/2012 at 17:26

      Certainly agree that a victim of crime is a victim drunk or not and needs the best service we can offer, alcohol consumption can certainly complicate an investigation no matter which side of the complaint it affects.

      I wish more people would enjoy a nice cup of tea rather than a couple of dozen cans of Special Brew – I’ll suggest that next time!

      Rich

  2. 3 Tim Lewis (@tflewis60) 06/03/2012 at 12:20

    Interesting thoughts. But I don’t think increasing the unit price on a unit of alcohol will make that much difference, and isn’t the panacea some think that would be.

    Die hard Drinkers will always find money for their alcohol need. Either by cutting spending on other items (food, bills etc) or even illegally obtaining the money they need via petty theft or mugging,

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned attitudes to drinking and the way its handled.

    I like a good drink (cough) and probably drink more than is good for me, but I don’t get rowdy and cause any trouble. I behave responsibly. Cheap booze certainly causes a lot of the issues. But a blanket increase on alcohol is a bad idea.

    Pubs are a good place to drink. Sociable and drinking is monitored. Perhaps Supermarket prices could be increased and Pub prices left alone? I agree with Alistron1 – half way. Alcopops were a BAD idea, but not all day drinking.

    What’s wrong with finishing a Week of Nights, then having a quiet pint in a Wetherspoons at Nine in the morning?

    Sorry for the disjointed thoughts, but this subject is perhaps not so black and white as it seems.

  3. 4 PC Richard Stanley 06/03/2012 at 17:33

    I guess attitudes towards drink are both the area which most requires change and too the hardest one in which change is achievable. I know plenty of people who like yourself will have a few drinks on a night out and suffer only a hangover the next morning.

    At the same time many of the people waking up in cells on Sunday morning have had too much to drink, lost all sense of reason and ended up fighting.

    Being more specific about alcohol pricing may indeed be more effective although unpopular with the brands targeted. Putting up the price of a decent bottle of wine probably won’t help anyone, focusing on the stronger lagers and cheap spirits available in off licenses may well do though.

    Rich

  4. 5 Tim Lewis (@tflewis60) 06/03/2012 at 18:52

    May I defend myself please?

    I haven’t been on a ‘Night out’ for far too many years – can’t afford it. I certainly do like a Few though, and don’t often (not always) get a hangover.

    Sorry to say, have seen many many of those Police programmes on TV (I’m sure you know the ones) where it is sickening (sic) what people do, and the complete disrespect they have for the Thin Blue Line. It is so saddening to see.

    Your final paragraph hits the nail on the head. We all know which brands are being talked about. Lets hope anything that is done takes into consideration the vast majority of people whom don’t cause any problems.

    But I’m guessing a broad brush will tar too many ‘innocent’ people.

  5. 6 GPC 08/03/2012 at 20:50

    Richard

    (1) The Police and indeed yourself need to think long and hard about giving support to or encouraging the imposition of a minimum price on alcohol.
    (2) Putting a minimum price on alcohol is illegal under EU competition law. If you need a stated case consider the precedence set by the ECJ against France Austria and Ireland http://www.eubusiness.com/topics/eulaw/tobacco.01/
    (3) If the Government wants to raise prices for alcohol and believes this would alleviate drunkeness it should (a) enforce a law stating retails cannot sell it at less than cost price (b) raise the duty on alcohol across the board.

    The reason setting a minimum price is illegal is because it raises the price of low brand and cheaper brands to that of main stream brands. When paying the same price people will chose the main stream brands thereby putting the cheaper brands out of business. This destroys the competition hence why it is illegal.

    So, if the Government implement it – we are faced with the taxpayer in 5 years time at the EU court of appeal having to pay Quite Frightening and other cheap cider companies a fortune in compensation….

    • 7 PC Richard Stanley 09/03/2012 at 14:48

      The Government doesn’t appear to be particularly convinced that the plan would be contrary to EU law – discussions are ongoing as to the specifics but the broad principle of setting a minimum price seems to be compatible, as here – http://newsnetscotland.com/index.php/scottish-news/4300-eu-indicates-minimum-pricing-for-alcohol-will-be-legal.

      I would say that the brands that may suffer – the high alcohol content, low price options – do appear to be contributing to the issue of problem drinking and if the pricing aspect of the strategy is to have a chance of success, it’s access to such brands that requires restriction, especially because such product lines appear to have little application beyond offering people an easy option to become intoxicated.

      Rich


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