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How Britain Gets Drunk Compared to the Rest of the World

A hint: far more self-destructively.
Max Daly
London, GB
June 8, 2015, 4:00pm

Photo by Robert Foster.

Britain likes a drink. This has been evident every Friday and Saturday night on these isles since the beginning of human history, through to the point where the term "booze Britain" became a legitimate phrase used by everyone from dour old men writing despairing op-eds for the Telegraph to whomever was responsible for naming Bravo's primetime programming in the early-2000s.

However, British boozing isn't all big nights, banter, and beautiful moments you're unlikely to remember the following morning; new research into global drinking habits has revealed that, for every 100 drinkers in a British pub, at least one will end up seeking emergency treatment after getting pissed.


The Global Drug Survey, an online survey of 100,000 people in 50 countries, shows that in Britain—a country so in love with alcohol it used the Black Death as an excuse to demand "the best and brownest" ale—with the pleasure of drinking comes the pain.

Of the respondents in Britain who sought help after a drinking session, almost a fifth had drunk more than 20 drinks, and half of them ended up hospitalized. Three percent said they had been drinking for more than four days. The symptoms most often reported by those needing medical help were accidents, trauma, confusion, memory loss, becoming unconscious, and feeling depressed and anxious the morning after.

Most people said they took 24 hours to recover from a big session, while some said they had never fully recovered. Over a third of those who'd sought emergency help after getting pissed admitted the experience had not changed their drinking habits. Official government figures show that 1.2 million people a year are admitted to hospitals due to alcohol, while liver disease in those under 30 has more than doubled over the past 20 years.

More than one in ten drinkers admitted there were times they could not stop drinking once they had started; that they or one of their friends had gotten injured during a drinking bout; that they could not remember what happened the night before; and that others had expressed concern about their drinking. Two-thirds of people arrived at a drinking venue after pre-loading at home or at a friend's house, with over one in ten taking drugs before a night of drinking.


People felt safer drinking in pubs and bars than in clubs, with over a fifth of people saying they felt unsafe traveling home after a drink.

Almost a fifth reported feelings of guilt or regret after drinking, and more than a third of British drinkers indicated they would like to drink less over the next 12 months. Just under one in ten people said they had "not been able to do what was normally expected of them" after drinking. Two percent said they needed a hair of the dog the morning after a heavy session to cope with their hangover.

READ ON MUNCHIES: UK Pubs Are Treating Prosecco Like Beer, and Italy Is Pissed

All in all, the survey shows that bad things happen after drinking more often to British drinkers than the average global drinker. Want another example? Here's one: we are the world champions of not remembering what we've done the night before, which you can either blame on our fondness for super-strength beers like Special Brew, or the British predilection for getting pissed in order to do or say things we're too scared to do sober.

But despite people deserting boozed-up Britain in a huff and the claims that we're a global "laughing stock" because of some photos of drunk people in a Daily Mail article, the survey found that our perceived reputation as the world's number one pisshead isn't entirely accurate.

That crown goes to Ireland, whose prime minister Enda Kenny had to deny in March that St. Patrick's Day was just an excuse to get hammered after Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott delivered an address where he talked about drinking Guinness on Ireland's alleged holy day. The survey found the Irish also had the highest rates of people needing emergency treatment after drinking, with nearly three in every 100 drinkers requiring a medic after a session.


The UK trails Ireland, Poland, New Zealand, Brazil, Australia, and France in terms of the number of men whose drinking could be described as being "dependent." The Global Drug Survey reflects official EU statistics that show Britain sits in the middle of the EU drinking table, which is topped by Latvia, Romania, and Lithuania, and propped up by Italy, Sweden, and Malta.

The Global Drug Survey found that the most common drinking venue among British drinkers was at a pub or a bar, followed by people's homes, house parties, and clubs. Nearly one in ten said they drank most of their alcohol alone. While around half of respondents knew that serving alcohol to drunk people is illegal, three-quarters said they have witnessed pubs and clubs serve drunk people. On that note, the best places to go if you want to get served while you're shitfaced, according to the survey, are Hungary, Greece, and Brazil.

British women, whose job it was to maintain the most widespread village business in 1300—brewing beer—had a higher showing, coming in fifth in the problem drinking league table after Ireland, Poland, Denmark, and France.

Globally, the average person drank alcohol two to three times a week, had three to four drinks, and got hammered less than once a month.

There have been many articles about booze Britain going to the dogs. But the golden era of British boozing was before 1600, during the Medieval era, when people had far more leisure time to get pissed on the endless stream of ale brewed in the local village. In around 1400, the British pub was born, allowing people to get steaming and fight each other closer to home, rather than having to walk to the other side of the village to have a beer and a punch-up.


In 1870, the average person drank 23 pints of beer and one bottle of a spirit a month. Pubs became the centre of communities, de facto trade union HQs, labor exchanges, and social security offices for local working class communities.

With the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, people had to work longer hours and drinking rates began to fall. Nevertheless, the temperance movement got short shift in England because booze was and still is so central to our social lives. Instead, it had to hop on a boat to America where a puritanical life was all the rage.

We're clearly not the best when it comes to drinking responsibly—one of every 100 people being hospitalized after drinking is never great—but figures suggest that binge drinking among Britain's young adults is continuing to fall. So give it another 200 years and we might have reined it in enough to fall a few places in the global Bad Drinker rankings.

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