Britain Plagued By Binge Drinking

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The event was remarkable only because of his father's prominence.

The legal drinking age in Britain is 18, compared to 21 in the U.S., but many drinkers start younger. Social workers say lax control of retail sales and cheap alcohol — commonly available for less than 70 pence ($1.10) a can in supermarkets and liquor stores — makes it easy for young people to experiment with liquor.

Cut-price booze has been blamed for the increasingly popular practice of "pre-loading," where drinkers indulge in shop-bought drink at home before they head out to bars and pubs, where the drinks are much more expensive.

Prime Minister David Cameron has declared binge drinking a national "scandal," and the government is seeking to curb the excess by introducing a minimum price for each unit of alcohol sold. Scotland, which has long struggled with a dire alcohol abuse problem, announced Monday it wants to set a minimum price of 50 pence (80 U.S. cents) per unit — which would mean an average bottle of wine could cost no less than about 4.70 pounds ($7.55).

The proposals have sparked lively debate — not least because of the unusually interventionist stance taken by the Conservatives. More to the point are questions about whether higher prices will actually cut excessive indulgence.

Simon Antrobus at the drug and alcohol treatment charity Addaction is hopeful that the proposals will increase public awareness.

"We're beginning to see people thinking, 'I have to do something about this,'" he said. "The challenging bit is getting people to understand the potential harmful consequences of alcohol. People need to know their limits."

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