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Britain’s Drink Problem

Aprile 2010
Nei paesi anglosassoni si beve troppo. La questione non è nuova, anzi è antichissima, ma nessuno è mai riuscito a risolverla, nè imponendo divieti nè con la più totale liberalizzazione. Il problema è culturale.

di John Rigg

File audio:

Speaker: Justin Ratcliffe (Standard British accent)

British newspapers report a terrible “new” trend in society: binge drinking. Binge drinking is the consumption of a large quantity of alcohol in a short time. The result is obvious: people become very drunk. Every week newspapers report on violence in Britain’s city centres, and show pictures of young people collapsed in the street. But is this really a new trend?


The discovery of Neolithic beer jugs suggests people already drank beer 12,000 years ago. Historians suggest beer resulted from Neolithic man’s purification of drinking water. The side effects were a bonus. The Romans imported wine into Britain, but not their custom of temperance and drinking only with meals. Britons followed the Germanic tradition of heavy beer drinking, especially during celebrations and feasts. These traditions continued through the medieval period, when beer was produced by monasteries.


The first national crisis came at the start of the 17th century: excessive drinking was epidemic in all classes. In 1606, King James I made drunkenness a crime. England’s aristocrats subsequently declared wine was medicinal.
The invention of gin in 1650 caused the next crisis. At the beginning of the 18th century gin was very cheap and fashionable. Pharmacists even sold it to women to calm their nerves. The result was a 30-year gin epidemic. We can see the results in artist William Hogarth’s famous print Gin Lane. Ironically, he proposed beer as a healthy alternative. Laws did not stop the epidemic. The epidemic ended with the introduction of two new fashionable drinks to Britain: tea and coffee.


The next crisis came during the First World War. England’s Prime Minister Lloyd George declared, “Britain is fighting Germans, Austrians and Drink!” The government introduced restrictions on pub opening hours for the first time. Ironically, people now blame this law for Britain’s binge drinking. It was removed in 2005.
Today’s problems are the result of the transformation of Britain’s pubs. Once they were quiet places where men relaxed with a drink. Today they have loud music to attract young customers. They offer “happy hours,” when drinks cost less. The result is large groups of young, drunk people in city centres every weekend.



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binge drinking - l’abitudine di bere all’eccesso, in breve tempo.

consumption - consumo.     

collapsed - stramazzati.

beer jugs - boccali da birra.

the side effects were a bonus - gli effetti collaterali erano un extra.

custom of temperance - abitudine alla moderazione.

meals - pasti.

drunkenness - ubriachezza.

fashionable - di moda.

print - stampa.

healthy - sana.

blame this law - attribuiscono a questa legge la colpa di...

loud music - musica  a tutto volume.