While some of us may bristle at the thought of one of our Great British passtimes coming under the scrutiny of anthropologists, SIRC's Kate Fox has posited an interesting socialogical take on our national 'problem' with alchohol.
In an article for the BBC, she suggests that the chemical content of alcohol has less of a part to play in intoxicated behaviour than social conditioning:
In high doses, alcohol impairs our reaction times, muscle control, co-ordination, short-term memory, perceptual field, cognitive abilities and ability to speak clearly. But it does not cause us selectively to break specific social rules. It does not cause us to say, "Oi, what you lookin' at?" and start punching each other. Nor does it cause us to say, "Hey babe, fancy a shag?" and start groping each other.
It seems that we in the UK (along with several other societies) have what is called an 'ambivalent' drinking culture where people are conditioned to associate alcohol with disinhibition, anti-social and lewd behaviour. Other countries (particularly Latin and Mediterranean societies) have an alternative 'integrated' drinking culture where alcohol is accepted in a family setting and is treated more casually. Most of these integrated cultures also demonstrate a higher per-capita level of alcohol consumption than their ambivalent counterparts.
In trials, people who were given placebos, but thought they were imbibing, displayed a commensurate lack of inhibition and became more flirtatious, confident and even violent. This points to the strange conclusion that our reaction to alcohol is culturally conditioned and suggests that we perhaps need to refocus our efforts to deal with problem drinking by adjusting social norms rather than traditional alcohol interventions, price control and legislation.
If we are to believe Fox, our messages about the dangers of drinking are simply adding fuel to the fire; they are making it an attractive taboo and imbuing it with 'magical powers'. Instead, as a culture we need to become inured almost to the point of indifference. Alcohol needs to have the veneer of illicit glamour removed from it.
Alcohol education will have achieved its ultimate goal not when young people in this country are afraid of alcohol and avoid it because it is toxic and dangerous, but when they are frankly just a little bit bored by it, when they don't need to be told not to binge-drink vodka shots, any more than they now need to be told not to swig down 15 double espressos in quick succession.
It's an interesting take on the way we might deal with underage drinking and certainly one that I'll be raising it in the next discussion down the pub!
Other social marketing and behaviour change blogs that we read: