The politics of drinking
Forgotten and forgetting: deprivation and drinking
It’s not the drink that determines whether you have a drink problem, it’s how little money you’ve got in your pocket. I’ve the made the point before and now a hefty lump of fresh evidence has come out to support it.
The North West Public Health Observatory (NWPHO) has published a series of reports that break down drinking patterns and alcohol problems into different population segments in an effort to target health interventions and social marketing campaigns.
In line with past studies they show that while alcohol consumption is as great, or even greater, in wealthier segments (although they drink wine rather than beer), alcohol-related hospital admissions are massively skewed towards the poor.
use a variety of measures but they all tell the same story. For example,
going by the government’s Index of Multiple Deprivation, a man living
in the poorest fifth of the population is five-and-a-half times more
likely to find themselves in hospital with ‘alcohol-specific
mental and behavioural disorders’ than if they were among the richest
And a man (I’m
just looking at the men here to make it easy for myself) in the bottom
tenth is seven-and-a-half times more likely than a man in the top tenth.
colourful population segmentation techniques, someone living in social
housing is eight-and-a-half times more likely to have an alcohol-related
disorder than a ‘career professional’, and the ‘vulnerable
disadvantaged’ register 13 times as many hospital admissions as
Of course, if
you’re struggling in life hitting the bottle is only going to make
matters worse, and in part these shocking figures are a result of
alcohol problems reinforcing the effects of poverty in a vicious circle.
Yet within the
poorest segments there is a polarisation – there are more non-drinkers
and more harmful drinkers than in wealthier segments. Even in deprived
populations those with drink problems are a small minority.
interesting way in which the NWPHO looks at the question is through
people’s attitude to their drinking*. The highest scores are for
positive statements: “Alcohol goes well with food” and “Alcohol
makes socialising fun”. Around 40% say they “really enjoy a night
out at the pub”.
Only a small
minority take the understandable but dangerous approach that “Alcohol
helps me forget my problems” – but it’s a much bigger minority
among the poor, going up to nearly 20% of those in social housing
compared to as few as 5% in some wealthier segments. And the poorest
tend to agree that there’s “Little I can do to change my life”.
vulnerable to drinking problems are those who drink for the wrong
reasons. Alcoholism is closely related to depression, and depression has
real causes in those problems people want to forget.
And while money
can’t buy happiness it’s not a bad deposit on it.
*It’s not quite
what the writers of the reports had in mind, but there’s useful
consumer insight here
for marketers and pub operators. Don’t tell them I told you…
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