LONDON – Beer and pubs are as British as, well, the Union Jack.
However, Britons’ fondness for alcohol is causing ever more serious health and safety problems, including a wave of liver disease and violent crime. In response, some doctors and politicians are calling for measures to reverse the trend, such as raising the drinking age to 21 from 18.
Nine out of 10 Britons older than 14 drink alcohol, the government estimates. And they’re drinking more. In 2005, they drank 1.7 billion gallons of alcohol, with average consumption per person doubling since 1960.
Particularly problematic is a rise in binge drinking, defined as having five or more drinks in one sitting. Britain has a greater percentage of regular binge drinkers, 24 percent, than other European Union nations except the Republic of Ireland and Finland, among 25 countries surveyed by the European Commission earlier this year.
Doctors struggle to explain the phenomenon. “We don’t understand why we have the culture we have,” said Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians and a liver specialist. “There’s history of binge drinking going back to Roman times … and it’s becoming dangerous.”
The problem starts young. About 70 percent of British 15-year-olds who drink say they do so to get drunk, double the rate in the United States, said Ralph Hingson of the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.