There’s a lot of Righteous handwringing about the statistic that the Scots are drinking 12.2 litres of pure alcohol each per year. This is, apparently, enough for every single adult to exceed the government’s (ludicrously low and scientifically unjustified) alcohol consumption guidelines.
But, hang on, that adds up to less than one and half pints a day of 4% ABV beer, which hardly seems to equate to problem drinking. Isn’t the problem more that too many people, within that average, are drinking at excessive and problematical levels, while many others drink little or nothing? I would have said someone who drinks two pints of beer on five days a week, and has two alcohol-free days (thus consuming 23 units over the course of a week) was the very model of a moderate and responsible drinker.
Is it really possible anyway to define an optimal quantity of alcohol for a society to drink each year? Obviously, if you’re a prohibitionist, the answer is nil. But, equally obviously, those of us who do enjoy the occasional drink can’t give the same answer. How much is not too much, not too little, but just right? Scandinavian countries such as Norway, Sweden and Finland have punitive alcohol taxes and draconian restrictions on availability, and have markedly lower levels of average consumption, yet still tend to have high levels of alcoholism and acute alcohol poisoning, suggesting that the “forbidden fruit” approach isn’t a magic bullet.
Rather than average per capita consumption, which is really a meaningless figure, wouldn’t a more relevant statistic be the incidence of genuine alcohol-related health problems? And isn’t the problem less that people on average drink too much, but that they drink badly, with drinking too concentrated both amongst individuals and over time - a point made by this rather old article from the Observer?