Watch out America, a new study suggest that Great Britain is a society of addicts.
“Othello, act 2, scene 3. As part of his evil plan, Iago, you will remember, is trying to get Cassio drunk, singing a song to get him rowdy. “I learned it in England,” he says, “where, indeed, they are most potent in potting: your Dane, your German, and your swag-bellied Hollander – Drink, ho! – are nothing to your English.” Ever the entertainer, Shakespeare knew that you could always get a cheer from a crowd in this country by complimenting them on their drinking.
“But why is it a compliment? The crippling intensity of one’s hangover the morning after, the unwiseness of one’s antics the night before, what makes these things that Britons boast about? The Centre for Social Justice, founded by Iain Duncan Smith, has just released a report that argues for it to be a matter of shame. “Britain is the addicted man of Europe,” the authors say. “Growing sections of society are dependent upon mind-altering substances.”
“The report itself is a muddled, shrill and selective document, determined to bring together issues such as binge drinking, heroin addiction, legal highs, cannabis smoking and alcoholism, which have different levels of seriousness, patterns of use and potential for harm. Yet at the heart of it lies a truth: Britain is a nation addicted, not necessarily to drugs oralcohol per se, but to excess itself.
“Here the facts are not in question. Although rates of drug use are broadly stable or falling, rates of opiate addiction are high in European terms, and in its penchant for party drugs Britain leads the world. Last year’s World Drugs report, which ranked countries on the prevalence of different drugs, put the Isle of Man and Scotland at numbers one and two for cocaine use, with England fourth and Wales sixth. All four figured in the top 10 for ecstasy use as well. Britain also appears to be a hub for the development of new synthetic drugs, often known as “legal highs”, because our laws take a while to ban them.
“Yet the harms these do are insignificant compared with alcohol. In western Europe, the report claims, British men have the second-highest rate of alcohol dependence. (Although, by eastern European standards, we look almost teetotal.) Among British women, however, alcohol dependence is the highest in the continent.
“Still worse than mere dependance, however, is a culture that depends on bingeing. “Bingeing is worse, because it’s the peak alcohol that maximises toxicity,” says Professor David Nutt, author of Drugs Without the Hot Air and former chair of the government’s Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. “And the binge tradition is something that Britain has pioneered.” According to Nutt, since the early 1970s, when the figures began to be collected, deaths from alcohol-related liver disease in the UK have quadrupled. At the same time, deaths from heart disease – for instance – have halved.