You know those stories you hear from your parents about how good they were when they were teenagers? And how they don’t understand how you can consume so much vodka in one night, let alone the one of more bottles you get through a week? I always put that down to a little bit of artistic licence on my mum’s part, but the reality is, yes, we do drink a lot more these days than they did back then.
Studies show that by 2004, British people were drinking over twice as much as they were in the 1950s – a rate that gradually increased up to the 1980s, then levelled off until the exponential increase from 1996 onwards. There have also been observations that there has been an increase in women drinking since the 1990s, while there has been a decline in male drinking.
My mum’s stories always come from a time she went to the pub as a teenager, not the club. Clubs were beginning to become a trend in the 1980s, and with the advent of the rave scene, and the use of drugs such as ecstasy, came a demand for drinks that were more conducive to partying. Thus, came stronger, bottled ciders and beers… then alcopops… then drinks including stimulants like caffeine (that’s where your vodka Red Bull started) and so the rise in alcohol consumption, and consumption of stronger drinks, can be seen.
On the other hand, there is evidence that the alcohol consumption of our generation is steadily declining, with more and more of us being teetotal. There’s no evidence to say this trend will last, but in 2013, the UK alcohol consumption stood at 7.7 litres per person – the lowest since 1996 and two litres less than the peak in 2004 (maybe it’s our older siblings that should be criticised for their drinking habits, not us). Yes, we still drink more than our parents did back in their day, but it’s the perpetuation of the British teenage stereotype that drives this concern for our drinking.
You could argue: what’s the difference? Nowadays, our parents will happily sit down with a glass or two of wine each night, so why worry about us and not about them? The liver doesn’t have pain receptors, so it’s quite hard to tell how much harm we’re actually doing. In reality, there is of course much evidence that shows binge drinking as a lot more unhealthy and damaging. But the real worry is the rise of ‘determined drinking’ – our parents may get drunk on a random Saturday, but many of us set out to get drunk on a night out. Drunkenness isn’t a necessity, but it sure makes a Cheesy Tuesdays bearable. On the upside, both alcohol-related deaths and drink-driving mortality rates have decreased dramatically in the past few decades.
Somehow, I feel that alcohol defines us more than it did our parents. They would drink some ciders at the pub, or at a house party, whereas I’ll go straight for the spirits aisle in Morrisons at least once a week. Maybe that’s just my experience, and we’re nowhere near as bad as the generation ten years before us, but it might be nice to enjoy each other’s company without shouting “NO EG!”.