Alcohol 2011


As with the history of alcohol, a snapshot of the present day in relation to alcohol is hard to summarise as it varies between race, geography, demographics, culture and legacies.It’s easy to get bogged down with the small trends, which is why it’s important to take a big picture view of alcohol in history.

On the alcohol arc, the pendulum definitely seems to be moving less between the extremes and is moving closer to equilibrium. There are always specific areas of concern: minority groups, demographic groups and trends in certain countries. However, seen on a larger scale, the use of alcohol continues to decrease. The same drivers identified throughout history are still at play, showing in itself that the basics of our society haven’t really changed that much in the context of human evolution.

Trends in total alcohol consumption in Europe sees the differences diminishing as ways of drinking become more homogenous.


Economics

Although retail sales are increasing around the world, this does not necessarily reflect an increase in per capita consumption. The growth of the population means that demand for alcohol will result in higher liquor sales. In the US, retail sales of alcoholic beverages totaled approximately $115.9 billion in 2003, up from $102.4 billion in 2000. Beer sales make up the greatest proportion of retail sales of alcoholic beverages, distilled spirits make up the second-greatest proportion, and wine is third.101

There has been a steady increase in the production of alcohol in the country, with the production doubling from 887.2 million litres in 1992-93 to 1,654 million litres in 1999-2000 and was expected to treble to 2300 million litres by 2007-08. 102

Graphs and statistics can show us how much people drink. They can't show us if the effects of alcohol are increasing or decreasing and what that actually looks like in society.

If we look at alcohol trends since the 1960’s, although there are obvious peaks and troughs, it seems that alcohol consumption is not increasing at alarming levels.

Alcohol production is increasing because of population growth, and the fact that drinking habits are becoming more hegemonic throughout the world. As alcohol production increases, the industry continues to provide large amounts of tax revenue to government and profits to big business. It could be said that this point alone is enough to curb enthusiasm for more regulation of the industry.

However, the profits for government need to be weighed against the costs of alcohol abuse in society. This balance of cost and profit differs between countries:

For every tax dollar Washington state collected from sales of beer, wine and distilled spirits in 1990, $7 in public and private funds were spent to deal with the problems of alcohol abuse, according to University of Washington researchers. (Seattle Times. Wed. March 31, 1993)Alcohol tax revenue in 2004/05 exceeded alcohol-attributable costs borne by the public sector by $1.4 billion. The Australian Government accrued an alcohol-attributable surplus of $1.8 billion, while the state governments were in deficit to the tune of $387 million. 103 

Suffice to say that with such large numbers of production around the world, there are many vested interests to keep the public consuming alcohol, even though there is clear evidence that the cost to society of alcohol abuse can sometimes outweigh the profits.

“Alcopop” drinks are a clear example of the alcohol industry putting profits ahead of the welfare of the community, as they are blatantly aimed at getting teenagers who don’t like the taste of alcohol to start imbibing it by way of sugary, sweet drinks.


Control

The control of alcohol continues around the world in various forms. Most countries have some form of regulation of alcohol, with only a few countries or enclaves still totally prohibiting it.

As alcohol has been particularly detrimental to indigenous populations around the world. many of these communities have stricter regulations in relation to alcohol and drugs. In Australia, alcohol is prohibited in many remote indigenous communities across Australia, with severe fines for anybody trying to transport liquor into these areas.

Each country in the world provides an interesting study of the drug pendulum. At this point in time, no matter what the current legislation of a country states, it will only be the most recent pendulum swing between the constant search for moderation.

Advertising is a fairly new form of control in the context of history. Advertising can influence a whole nation to change their choices and behavior.Advertising has an influence on alcohol consumption in several ways.

  • It can build brands and therefore create giant profits for companies:

With Globalisation comes Global brands and global marketing campaigns. From the world’s top ten largest brewers, six of them are among the world’s 100 largest advertisers. 104

  • It can create a narrative around alcohol that entices people to try it: youth culture, sophisticated socializing, social belonging, etc.
  • It can influence attitudes towards alcohol that helps society aim for the moderation it seeks.

Whether advertising is used for the good of society or for the good of big business depends on who pays for it and who controls it. Unfortunately, big business is able to pay money that government needs. Governments try and counteract the effects of alcohol advertising with advertisements that try to balance the view of alcohol by educating people about it’s unhealthy side effects both personally and for a community.

In the past, the alcohol industry has brought pressure to bare on governments regarding levels of taxation and control.Currently, because of the push for greater moral and ethical responsibility by companies, the alcohol industry at least gives the impression that it is trying to be more responsible, and governments and industry are also trying to work more closely together.105


Social

Alcohol consumption increases at periods throughout history which see turmoil, displacement, loss of identity and boredom. We are currently in one of these crisis states with many people, especially our youth, searching for their reason d’etre.

In current western societies, we have seen a slow decrease in community, connectedness, spirituality, purpose and a clear future. This is not a new thing, as can be seen in our historic timeline. However it is new by virtue of its scale and the collective consciousness of its being.

Social attitudes to alcohol have a direct impact on alcohol consumption. Some of these attitudes are created through government bodies (see control), however once an attitude is adopted by a society, this becomes the accepted mentality and the society as a whole changes gear to fit in with it.

Drink driving changed the way many people socialized, as did the designated driver campaign. However, although these campaigns were incredibly successful, alcohol consumption overall remains fairly constant.

The social attitude of alcohol amongst youth is a big driver of their drinking patterns. Again, there are many reasons why youth drink:

In past decades, teenagers had dancing and live bands to throw into the drinking mix. Now, a Saturday night is ostensibly just about drinking. There is nothing else to divert the attention from alcohol and the goal of getting “plastered”.

The charity Drinkaware found that 8% of the 16 and 17 year olds it questioned said they drank at least once a week simply because they were bored.Nearly one-third (29%) of the 1,071 polled said they had drunk alcohol out of boredom at some point. 106

“Rite of passage” is a universal pattern in every society and culture.  In the process of modernization this pattern is changing quickly in Europe. The decline of religion and rituals in Northern and Southern Europe has changed the traditional patterns of “rite of passage” particularly with the individual transition between childhood and adulthood.  The growth of the social and cultural category of youth in transition, and the expanding period the individuals taking part as youth, can be seen as ultimate trails of modernity. At the same time the young people are ritualizing this period inside the community of youth. 107 

Throughout history, youth have often been displaced, treated badly and set adrift in crisis situations. The fact that many youth today are pampered and richer than ever before may simply mean they have more opportunity to drink to excess than in the past. However, the fact that modernity has provided little other than getting drunk as a rites of passage means that the social attitude towards alcohol makes it a symbol, a “right” and a legacy to be claimed.

There has always been a vague north south divide regarding patterns of alcohol use. The synthesis of the Greek/Roman cultures and the Germanic cultures into various parts of Europe seems to be the backdrop for this difference.

Other reasons have been given for this 108 :

  • The weather and scarcity of alcohol in the North.
  • Extremes of seasonal light and dark cycles
  • A suitable ecosystem for viticulture
  • Differences in socio-political structures.

Whatever the reason, there have been distinct drinking patterns around the world. However, research now shows that these distinct patterns are now merging.

This move towards hegemony in our attitudes and preferences for what we drink and how we drink are a result of globalization. People are moving between boundaries more than they ever have, and tourism sees great influxes of different cultures into certain countries. These countries need to provide the alcohol requirements of these tourists, thus offering alcohol to fulfill different drinking patterns than the traditional ones.


Technical

Alcohol has always been mixed, added to, refined and distilled. These advances have allowed for more variety in the taste of alcohol.

In today’s society, these various forms are commoditized so that we have an array of alcohol choices presented to us in every liquor store. The distribution and packaging makes it easy for us to choose a flavor that suits our taste and requirements at any time.In recent years, we have seen the rise of a new variety of alcohol called Alcopops (pre-mixed, sugary drinks).

The Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show 16 million litres of pre-mixed spirits, such as Bacardi Breezer, were made last year. This was an increase of 9 per cent on 2005. In the same time, beer and wine quantities rose just over 1 per cent.”We found young people didn’t particularly like the taste of alcohol as such, but milky alcohol drinks and ready-to-drinks increased their likelihood to try those beverages.” 109

There is also a clear trend towards increased concentration of alcohol levels in wines and beer across the world. 110

Whatever the reason for this, it has a direct impact on the amount of people who become addicted to alcohol and to it’s associated impacts on society and health. Surely if we are concerned about reducing the costs to society, governments would work with industries to reduce the amount of alcohol content in their products?

There is also the potential of emerging technologies to stop drunk driving and to help alcoholics. Some of these technologies are already in development 111:

  • Advanced breath testing technology
  • Tissue spectorscopy
  • Trandermal technology
  • Ocular measurement technology

In 2011, a Californian study of hard core drunk drivers in Riverside Country, showed that those who were monitored with 24/7 alcohol bracelets saw a re-arrest rate of nearly one-half the state average for repeat DUI offenders. 112

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