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'Binge drinkers': Folk devils of the binge economy

An extraordinary amount of media attention focuses on alcohol consumption and its impact on public order and health. But as Professor Dick Hobbs shows in ESRC's new report Seven Deadly Sins, while 'binge drinking' youths dominate the headlines, it is older drinkers that are most likely to succumb to alcohol-related death.

What's more, Professor Hobbs argues, it is the logic of the market and not the logic derived from careful data analysis that informs government policy on alcohol. As a society, we embrace the 'night-time economy' and the jobs, urban regeneration and taxation that the industry generates while seeking to punish the routine transgressions of its primary consumers.

Hobbs notes that the term 'binge drinking' is rarely used to describe the drinking habits of anyone other than young denizens of the night-time economy. Binge drinking is seldom linked with alcohol-related diseases, with accidents in the home or with domestic violence. Indeed, since publication of the government's alcohol strategy, where a binge drinker is described as someone who drinks to get drunk, the term has become a remarkably pliant device to implicate individuals perhaps more accurately described as 'young people drunk and disorderly in public places'.

As such, binge drinkers are indispensable folk devils. They are noisy, urinate in public and violent. This brings them into conflict with an undermanned police force, which can be depicted on most nights of the week wrestling heroically with foul-mouthed, vomit-stained youths in an attempt to restore the city centre to daytime levels of comportment.

Despite alcohol being our drug of choice, the source is not typically regarded as a problem. Alcohol is a legal drug and so there are no attempts to bring down the 'Mr Bigs' of the alcohol industry. Indeed, the main dealers are ensconced with the police and politicians in crime reduction committees and urban regeneration partnerships.

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Contact: Becky Gammon
becky.gammon@esrc.ac.uk
44-1-793-413-122
Economic & Social Research Council
17-Jun-2005


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