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Let's be adult about alcohol.

Anyone who nursed a sore head after this last New Year celebration will appreciate the timeliness of a report that warns we drink too much.

What the Royal College of Physicians has to say, however, cannot be dismissed with a giggle about seasonal over-indulgence.

The long-term consequences of heavy drinking are liver disease, psychological damage and family breakdown.

But what of the damage that can be done in a single night out on the town ( the lost days at work, the visit to casualty ward, the lives wrecked by a single drunken punch.

These are costs all of us will have to bear.

What alarms us is the rise in drinking we have seen ( there has been a 50pc increase in alcohol consumption here over 25 years in which the rest of Europe has seen a steady fall.

There is no obvious explanation for this, other than to say we live in a culture uniquely seduced by the narcotic lure of drink.

Wine has gone from a middle-class treat to a supermarket staple, beers have got steadily stronger and spirits cheaper if rougher.

The market is only responding to its customers. Our attitude to alcohol is adolescent ( as a society we crave quantity and strength over quality.

We would rather quaff three bottles of pounds 3 vin ordinaire than sip a pounds 9 Bordeaux Superior. We get out early to take advantage of treble `house special' pub offers rather than enjoy smoother brand name spirits.

If, as the Royal College says, half of all men in the North drink too much then drinking too much is normal.

That is a frightening thought, for it increases the social pressure on those who prefer moderation.

Drinks manufacturers have woken up to the need to state strengths in an understandable form on their products and remind customers of the dangers associated with alcohol.

But this is too little, too late.

Doctors understandably fear that the relaxation of licensing laws can only increase the problems associated with our drink culture.

And they are right. We would like to share the dream of 24-hour opening creating a sophisticated continental cafe society from the present wreckage our town centres suffer every weekend.

The fact is, too many people of all ages still behave like immature teenagers at the first sniff of the booze. We need to grow up.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jan 4, 2005
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