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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton  


         Phil's Diary November 24, 2009



Why people drink at home – and why they should be down the pub

Amid the welter of drink-demonising research and reports you might have missed a relatively modest and sensible contribution that’s quite good on the positive role pubs can play in our alcohol culture.

Why Do People Drink at Home? interviewed people in Blackpool on behalf of the Alcohol Education and Research Council and… er… does what it says on the tin, really.

Underlying the empirical research, though, is the well-established, but recently frequently forgotten, idea that drinking in a regulated social setting such as the pub is in many ways safer than drinking at home.

The report is quietly critical of the emphasis in alcohol policy on public ‘binge-drinking’ which implies that home drinking is inherently safe. It finds that people are, in fact, conscious of the dangers of drinking indoors, especially if it’s done alone.

Most societies have a taboo against lone drinking and here it’s associated with loneliness and depression and an increased risk of dependency.

There is a suspicion that the subjects of this research would rather be down the pub, so why aren’t they?

“The main reason for adults drinking at home can be summed up in one word – ‘convenience’,” says the report, convenience including cost and availability.

But there is also a strong positive feeling among people drinking at home that they are exercising a freedom not granted them in the pub. Curiously, this “accords with what is perceived to be greater state involvement in the life of the private citizen over the past 10 years”.

Well, there’s the smoking ban, of course, but also a more general sense of surveillance that people object to. This is, without being too intrusive, part of the licensee’s job, I suppose. But this shouldn’t matter in a good pub that makes its customers so welcome they feel it belongs to them, or, as we say, they feel ‘at home’.

And there may be ways of making the pub more appealing to these stay-at-homes.

‘Convenience’ also relates to activities such as eating, playing games and listening to music, all things a pub should be able to provide.

Safety is another consideration. Sadly most of the people surveyed thought pubs were “unpleasant and violent” and were worried about drinks being watered down or spiked, unruly underage drinkers and being short-changed.

Doesn’t sound like any of the (many) pubs I use. So it’s the old image problem. If we can only get these people out into a decent pub they’ll see how wrong they are – and how much pubs have improved in recent years.

Any ideas?

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