Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Bladdered Brits?

Last week, there was a rather odd report claiming that British people were the biggest boozers in the world. This was based on a survey which asked people in 36 different countries how many times they had been “drunk” over the past year. The British came out top with 51 separate occasions, or almost one a week. However, this conflicts with actual statistics on per capita alcohol consumption. These can be worked out in various ways, but always put the UK well down the league table. For example, this table on Wikipedia puts us in twenty-fifth place, with Belarus top, over 50% higher than us.

There are perhaps two explanations for this. The first is that British people have always tended to adopt something of an “all or nothing” approach to alcohol, rather than the “little and often” than is more common in many Continental countries. This has if anything become more marked in recent years. And we also seem to be much more willing to admit, or claim, that we have been drunk than many other countries, and even see it as a desirable objective for a night out. That some of the other leaders are Australia, Canada and the United States, all of which are actually below the UK in the consumption league table, suggests there is a strong cultural element to it.

It also raises the question of how you actually define “drunk”. To my mind it implies one or more of slurring words, unsteady on feet, losing inhibitions, vomiting, becoming loud and aggressive or tearful and maudlin. It’s well beyond just a bit merry or tipsy, and definitely doesn’t just mean “over the legal limit for driving” as sometimes seems to be insinuated. Are people really saying they’re getting in that state once a week and, if they are, shouldn’t they take a long hard look at themselves? Or do they actually see it as just getting through half a bottle of wine or three cans of Punk IPA in an evening?

I’ve certainly had my moments in the past, but I can’t recall a single occasion during the past year when I’ve been in anything like that condition. For example, earlier this month we had a day out in Rugby, during which nine or ten pubs were visited. (I know exactly how many, but not everyone did every pub) Pints weren’t consumed in every pub, but they certainly were in quite a few. But everyone managed to get back to their hotel or catch their train home without any problem, and the conversation, while it might have become a little more forthright, never descended into argument. I wouldn’t say anyone was drunk or anywhere near it.

At the end of the day, this survey doesn’t really convey any worthwhile information: it just serves to reinforce national stereotypes and highlight our collective feeling of guilt and self-loathing about drinking.


  1. It is difficult to give any real credence to self reported surveys like this. If some busybody asked me how much I drunk I would probably reply 100 units a day. (unless it was my doctor when I would say that I can't remember)

    I saw a survey about numeracy that said that some 10% of people didn't know their two times table. I interpret that as being that 10% of people take the p1$$ out of interviewers.

  2. The Stafford Mudgie22 May 2019 at 10:06

    It also raises the question of how you actually define “drunk”.
    Yes indeed.
    I try my best NOT to get drawn into defining words but for me "drunk" means not getting home without the assistance of a paramedic or attention of a police constable. I therefore believe that in 49 years of using pubs I have never been drunk. No wonder so many pubs are closing.

  3. The survey is not a population survey, and the report says that its 'results' should not be used for population estimates.

    I have to wonder quite what use it is.

  4. On our aforementioned day out in Rugby, I had 8½ pints during our session and I was most definitely drunk...but I wasn't falling-down drunk, nor was I violently drunk and I wasn't off-my-face drunk (none of which have ever happened to me!). I was pleasantly drunk...and that's how I like it.

    As with everything, there are subtle (and not-so subtle) gradations within the scale of drunkeness - maybe someone should come up with something akin to the Beaufort Scale for drunkeness! 0 - being completely sober and 12 being as drunk as Stafford Mudgie defines it!

    1. The Stafford Mudgie22 May 2019 at 17:33

      Yes, 8½ pints is about right for a Proper Day Out although with an early enough start I have managed ten.

  5. That time I had a pint of Lees Harvest Ale then drank everyone's unfinished Dutch IPA at John Clarkes tutored tasting and fell asleep for 15 hours.

    That was drunk.

  6. There is a gradation of different levels, but to my mind the key determinant is some degree of loss of control. I think Paul's definition is a bit extreme - I'd say something like missing your last bus, or losing your way, or falling over on the way home, would certainly count.

    There can also, in my experience, be a fairly sharp cliff between feeling in command and losing it.

    1. The Stafford Mudgie23 May 2019 at 12:36

      I'm not at all sure about being an extremist and fear that you're being unduly negative here.
      Buses can be missed on the way TO a pub, I have lost my way going TO a remote country pub and people can fall over in haste on the way TO a pub just before last orders.

  7. Or as a friend of mine managed once, catching a taxi home. Then wondering why the key didn't fit in the lock; only to realise he'd moved house 10 years earlier.

  8. Of far more interest is how drunkeness is viewed and moralised on. Who is or isn't allowed. Women, young adults, working class = Irresponsible drunks. Male, middle aged, middle class = Responsible alkies

  9. Can you still walk straight? not drunk.
    Can't see straight, drunk.


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