The drinking of alcohol is completely acceptable in many if not most parts of society and, in the UK, it is legal to be bought by anyone over the age of 181. This is a well-known fact but a lesser known one is that in the UK, alcohol can be legally drunk on private premises by anyone over the age of 52 and youths aged 16 and over may drink alcohol3 in restaurants from the age of 16 if with an adult4.
Apart from religious reasons, most people do not see a problem with a temperance attitude towards the consumption of alcohol, indeed research suggests that the occasional and moderate consumption of alcohol may have benefits to health. The problems arise when a culture adopts a heavy or binge drinking culture. Such a culture is encouraged and, in a lot of cases, made possible by the availability of cheap alcohol. Just looking at the website for Tesco today5 shows advertisements for discounted beer, for example 12 x 440ml cans of Fosters for ? 9 or a saving of ?
3 for 24 cans at only ? 15. That is beer at only 62p each for a large can, something which would cost a person approx. ?3 – 3. 50 each in a public house. It is not just supermarkets which offer cheap deals on alcohol, in my city tonight there will be countless bars offering ‘2 for 1’ deals and half price drinks during their ‘happy hours’ which normally last from 6pm until 9pm. This short time period when drinks are 50% cheaper leads to people being tempted to drink a lot of alcohol during the ‘happy hour’ period to take advantage of cheap drinks when they are available.
Happy hours have become so popular that there are ‘Happy Hour Guides’ online so people know where to go for cheap alcohol6 . Although it may appear, on the surface, that the availability of cheap alcohol is harmless, unfortunately, a number of social problems have arisen as a result of it. These problems have reached such a crisis that for the past 3 years, the government has been attempting to address the availability of cheap alcohol from both shops and licensed premises and the length of opening hours in those licensed premises.
The social problems that have arisen are widely publicised by the media by showing town and city centres on a Friday or Saturday night, awash with drunken teenagers and those in their 20s having partied on ‘cheap’ alcohol. This invariably leads to public order offences in the centres, a higher rate of sexual offences and, at the bottom end of the scale, centres left at the end of the night covered in broken bottles and kebab wrappers. Another lesser known fact is the binge drinkers are 14 times more likely to drive while impaired compared to people who drink sensible amounts”7.
Slightly further behind the scenes, but also quite well publicised are the results seen at the A&E departments following binge drinking at a weekend when such departments are run off their feet trying to deal with genuine serious cases whilst, at the same time having to attend to a steady stream of drunk with alcohol related injuries. Such problems are quite well publicised and the public at large are well aware of these results of freely available cheap alcohol being abused.
There are, however, more problems below the surface. In 2010, Sir John Stoddart, Chief Constable of Durham Constabulary spoke to Channel 4 about the affects cheap alcohol was having within his jurisdiction. He claimed that the problem is far larger than binge-fuelled bad behaviour and that his men and women on the beat saw a range of alcohol-related crime and social breakdown. In 2009, his constabulary and two neighbouring forces tackled nearly 6,500 incidents of domestic violence where alcohol played a part.
The Chief Constable was quoted as saying that he was in no doubt that it was the cut prices and easy availability of alcohol that were to blame. 8 Other social problems that arise from freely available cheap alcohol include a general rise in crime, in fact, almost half of all victims of violence report that perpetrators were under the influence9. Also, the general health of those who abuse alcohol declines and it often leads to an early death. One reason for bad health from alcohol is chronic liver disease. From 1970 – 2000, deaths in the UK from cirrhosis increased by 900%.
The primary cause of cirrhosis is drinking too much alcohol. In conclusion, there are numerous social problems which result from freely available cheap alcohol. These problems include health issues, domestic problems, a rise in crime and a general degradation of our town and city centres. II. Expand on the other issues that have made alcohol a significant social problem In the answer above, as well as the main, obvious social issues I did touch on the problem of health and crime resulting from the consumption (or rather, over consumption) of alcohol.
I will now expand on these issues in more detail. During a time of austerity institutions such as the NHS are extremely hard pressed to provide an adequate service to the population. The NHS in England currently has to make ? 20bn of efficiency savings (between 2011 and 2015). These savings of 4% a year are needed if the NHS is to meet rising demands and maintain quality, with funding effectively frozen in real terms during the current spending review period. The last thing it needs is for a social issue to increase the number of patients that it has.
In 2010, the NHS published a report on the cost of binge drinking, ‘Too much of the hard stuff: what alcohol costs the NHS’. It cited that consumption of alcohol in the UK had increased by 19 per cent over the previous three decades and that reports indicated that 10. 5 million adults in England drink alcohol above sensible limits and around 1. 1 million have a level of alcohol addiction. It also confirmed that alcohol was the third leading cause of disease burden in developed countries and, as a result, the cost of providing alcohol-related services was escalating.
It emphasised that over a quarter of the population in England was drinking at hazardous levels and that treating alcohol-related conditions cost the NHS approximately ? 2. 7 billion in 2006/07, almost double the 2001 cost. Furthermore, the pressure to react to drinkers’ urgent and increasing health needs made it difficult for preventative measures to keep pace. Alcohol has always been an issue in relation to reported crime. According to the Home Office, the incidence of crimes committed under the influence of alcohol is rising steadily.
During 2011, in England, almost half of all violent crimes were thought to have involved alcohol. Additionally, just under 40% of all domestic violence was attributed to drunkenness. Additionally, research by the British Medical Association suggests that between 60 – 70% of all murders were committed by those under the influence of alcohol. The abuse of alcohol has always been linked to crime levels and the reason for this is the fact that alcohol is classed as a ‘disinhibitor’. A disinhibitor is a drug that tends to remove a person’s inhibitions.
In essence, alcohol can literally give people the “courage” to do things they might not otherwise do. So what makes people drink to excess? There are many factors attributed to heavy drinking of alcohol, these include the fact that those from families with a history of drinking are more likely to drink to excess, as are people with a history of abuse. Also cited as a blame for heavy drinking is peer pressure. Another factor, all the more relevant in a time of high unemployment and austerity is the fact that stress both at home and at work and unemployment are known factors to increase the consumption of alcohol.
As with the NHS above, during these times of austerity, policing the population is strained almost to breaking point. Recent cuts on the budget for forces have led to a 17% cut in police staff with 13,500 fewer police officers and nearly 3,000 fewer PCSOs. During the period 2011 – 2015, UK police forces have to make a saving of ? 2. 7bn. In 2012, Her Majesties Inspector of Constabularies confirmed that as many as three different forces within in the UK were failing due to spending cuts and that others may fail in the near future.
With such facts and figures, then with an increase of alcohol abuse, then there is likely to be an increase in reported crime. In such a climate, the last thing that UK forces need are high levels of alcohol related reported crimes. III. Why is cocaine considered the main drug of choice for the wealthy? The history of cocaine goes back many hundreds of years. Indeed, over 1000 years ago, indigenous South American people used to chew the leaves of cocoa plants for its nutrients.
It has been known to the Western world since the mid-16th Century, since which it was been used as a drug of leisure and as a medicinal compound. For the majority of this time, the use of cocaine was legal, indeed during the early 20th-century, cocaine was being sold in US drugstores, costing 5c – 10c for a small boxful. It was commonly used by ‘stevedores’ along the Mississippi River, who used the drug as a stimulant. During the same period, again in the US, white employers encouraged its use by black labourers in order to increase their work rate.
Even as recently as 1916, Harrods were selling a kit described as “A Welcome Present for Friends at the Front” containing cocaine, morphine, syringes and needles. However, later that year cocaine was made illegal following reports of ‘drug crazed soldiers’. It is currently a class A controlled drug listed on Schedule II of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. During modern times, traditionally, cocaine was always the drug of the rich. This was purely due to its price being relatively high in comparison to other controlled drugs.
Indeed, during the 1990s when I was working undercover in the drug scene, cocaine was rarely encountered on the street due to its high prices. Other, cheaper drugs such as LSD, Ecstasy and Amphetamine Sulphate (speed) were far more easily available and much cheaper. More recently, due to a higher supply of the drug, in accordance with the age old adage of ‘supply and demand’, the price of cocaine has dropped drastically. To illustrate this, in 1999 a gram of cocaine would cost in the region of ? 70. By the mid-2000s, that same gram would only cost about ?
35. It suddenly became affordable and therefore its usage increased. In 2007, the UN claimed that 2. 4% of adults in England and Wales use cocaine10. IV. What are the attractions of readily available recreational drugs? Recreational drugs are used by people to either create or improve a recreational situation rather than for medical or spiritual purposes. Recreational drugs include alcohol, nicotine and caffeine, together with a number of commonly used controlled drugs and, lately, a ‘group’ of what have been referred to as ‘legal highs’.
The attractions of alcohol, nicotine and caffeine, together with legal highs11, such as ‘gocaine’, ‘ching’ and ‘AMT’ to name but a few include the fact that they are legal, easily obtained, relatively cheap, all are quite sociable drugs and, to differing degrees, all of them ‘lift’ a person’s spirits. Controlled (illegal) drugs are also regularly used recreationally. The most common types of recreational drug includes cannabis, amphetamines, ecstasy and cocaine.
As above, the main attractions of recreational drugs are that they are relatively cheap, especially if compared to the price of alcohol, in particular if one wants a similar level of effect. They are a sociable pastime with very few recreational drug users using them in isolation and the majority (with the exception of cannabis) are designed to lift a person’s spirits and energy levels. Cannabis on the other hand has the opposite effect allowing a person to relax and it is often used by recreational drug users to help them ‘come down’ after an episode of using an ‘upper’.
The fact that such drugs are illegal and even the mere possession of them could lead to a person receiving a criminal record is very little deterrent to those who wish to use recreational drugs. V. Explore the range of options for resolving the problem of frequent use of recreational drugs The options for resolving recreational drug use vary depending upon the drug in question. There is no control over the use of a drug such as caffeine, a child of any age can walk into any shop in the UK and purchase a jar of coffee, caffeine laced sweets or can of coke.
This is because of the perception that caffeine is harmless and it is socially acceptable to be consumed, normally in a drink such as coffee or coke. Despite the public perception of it, however, caffeine is not quite as harmless as people believe. For example, just today it was reported that a 40 year old man died of an overdose of caffeine after eating too many mints with caffeine in them12. Having said that, in the majority of cases, caffeine does not cause any major adverse reaction to its consumption and it is not considered to be a recreational drug which requires resolving.
Nicotine on the other hand has slipped out of popularity due to its most popular form of consumption being by smoking tobacco. Smoking was once popular and acceptable in the majority of places and situations, however, in the UK this has changed as a result of the health issues associated to it. The method used to resolve the recreational use of nicotine in the form of smoking tobacco has been to heavily tax it in order to make it unaffordable to the majority and to ban its use in public places.
Alcohol is another recreational drug which has recently fallen foul of those in authority and its use is currently seen as something which requires resolving. This has resulted from an increase in ill health of drinkers, huge media interest in what they describe as ‘binge drinking’ and statistics which show that the UK is very high on international statistics as far as alcohol related crime is concerned. This is being done by good education programs regarding the ill effects of alcohol, overt advertising on the ill effects of alcohol use, heavy taxation and overt, strong policing of areas when alcohol is used recreationally.
In addition, the government is exploring licensing hours with a view to reducing them in order to make alcohol less accessible and to introduce a minimum price per unit for alcohol in order to make it less affordable. The recreational use of legal highs are slightly harder to resolve. Although such drugs have been available for some time, it is only recently that their use, and indeed the sometimes fatal consequences of such use, has been advertised widely.
Such drugs are frequently used by young people who either do not want to break the law and purchase illegal drugs, or by those who cannot afford controlled drugs (which invariably are more expensive). It is very difficult to resolve the use of recreational drugs that are freely available via hundreds of internet sites and shops around the UK. Most of the legal highs are basically vitamin pills laced with high levels of caffeine or herbs containing the (legal) chemical ephedrine.
With their popularity, designers have started to produce a new generation of legal highs, many with effects more closely associated with stronger drugs like cannabis, ecstasy and cocaine, some even contain the amphetamine-like drug BZP, an artificial chemical originally used as worming tablet for cows. It is very hard to control such sales as, in a similar manner to designer drugs such as those originating from the original MDMA, as soon as a drug is made illegal, the designers just change its chemical make-up so it remains legal.
Although this is easier to control with the UK drug laws than in countries such as the USA, it is still very difficult which is why in the UK, specific legal highs are not made illegal much sooner. The way to resolve the frequent use of such legal ‘drugs’ is to publicise the ill effect of using them, to investigate their make up and ban those containing dangerous or illegal ingredients. Education beginning early in life is another way to attempt to curg the use of such recreational drugs. I have left to last the ways to resolve the frequent use of controlled recreational drugs.
My reason for this is because I do not think that there is a method which will be successful. Firstly, we made the drugs illegal so that no-one would use them. This did not work. We have had a no tolerance policy on drug offenders which also did not work. We have had extensive multi-media drug education programs made in an attempt to show people the ill effects of such drugs but this has not worked. Some employers have introduced compulsory drug testing in order to identify drug users to make the workplace a safer place.
People are still caught regularly which again shows that this does not work. We spend literally ? billions around the world, destroying crops of illegal drugs, funding international drug enforcement initiatives and strengthening our borders but still, the demand is so high that such drugs still manage to make their way into our country. As I said above, I do not think we can prevent such drug use, however, the methods described above will hopefully at least control the use of illegal recreational drugs, if not eradicate it.