Is Binge Drinking Always A Bad Thing?

It's been three years since alcohol licensing was relaxed in Britain, booze can be sold now at any time of day. A report was just released assessing the effects of this law, and while overall crime has gone down in England, alcohol-related crime in city centers has gone up, says Zoe Williams of the Guardian. Conservative members of parliament want to put government sanctions back on the sale of booze, ostensibly to curb binge drinking. Williams finds the idea of the government rolling back the new legislation to be pointless, and well, kind of fascist. The portrait of the binge drinker as marauding hooligan isn't even correct, argues Williams. Binge drinking is defined as four units of alcohol in a woman — it's not ending up vomiting in the hospital she says, "It's half a bottle of wine watching Scrubs."

And anyway, more stringent controls on drinkers isn't getting at the root of the problem. The problem is a culture of alcohol consumption. Williams posits:

The factors motivating drunkenness, or rather militating against a mature, long-term attitude to consumption and wellbeing, are vast and global and complicated. You could blame the 60s for destroying a shared understanding of morality, or the 80s for creating the financial disparities that make society functionally meaningless to people anywhere near the bottom.

Binge drinking doesn't even cause destructive behavior in all cultures, the New York Times noted yesterday. In a 1969 book called Drunken Comportment, social scientists Craig MacAndrew and Robert B. Edgerton wrote about drunkenness across the world, and according to the Times, they found " the Yuruna Indians in the Xingu region of Brazil would become exceptionally reserved when rendered sideways by large helpings of moonshine...In a Japanese island village, Takashima, people knew a drinking occasion had gone completely off the dials if villagers began to sing or, wilder still, to dance. Aggression, sexual or otherwise, was unheard of during these sessions."

More recently, social scientists in New Zealand studied the effects of drinking in teenage girls. The researchers observed two different cliques at a high school, according to the Times, and while both groups associated boozing with wild behavior, "one group considered being uninhibited to include making out, and the other considered it to include far more." In other worlds? If you're out flashing Joe Francis, it's probably the booze and the influence of your whorey friends in equal measures.

So what's the takeaway? A bottle of wine probably won't hurt you. A bottle of wine smashed over your head by a soccer hooligan will.

Sorry, I Binge Responsibly [Guardian]
When People Drink Themselves Silly, and Why [New York Times]