Is the closing of British pubs such a bad thing?

Higher taxes, a national smoking ban and a consumer credit crunch may bring about the demise of the British public house as a social institution. But are less pubs such a bad thing for a nation of chronic alcoholics and systemic alcoholism?

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In this week’s Newsweek guest journalist, William Underhill, comments on the closure of nearly half of British public houses in recent times. Underhill writes:

“The pub has been the people’s civic forum, their rallying center and their refuge from hard times…and continue to stand as an emblem of Britain’s tradition of community-based values.”

Talk about nostalgia.

What social movement emerged from a pub? What political activism? What positive force came from a room of active alcoholics? Someone, please help me out here.

The facts are that around one in thirteen adults are dependent upon drink in Britain. After smoking, alcoholism kills more people in the UK than any other drug. A.A. in the UK reports that 33,000 people die each year due to alcohol-related incidents or associated health problems. The NHS Information Centre‘s 2006 report outlined the problem like this:

  • 74 % of men and 59% of women reported drinking an alcoholic drink on at least one day in the week
  • 15% of men and 8 % of women reported drinking on every day in the previous week
  • 39% of men and 22 % of women had drunk more than the recommended number of units on at least one day in the week prior to interview
  • Older people are more likely to drink regularly – 30 % of men and 19% of women aged 45-64 drank on five or more days in the week
  • If alcohol is endemic to the culture of the UK, why glorify the dealers, the distributors, the pushers of alcohol? Having lived and work in Britain myself, I myself got into a disturbing routine of work and drink. Pubs are, as Underhill calls them, “both sanctuary and meeting place”. Frankly, to “go down the pub” becomes a daily ritual for lack of alternatives and a need to connect. But had there been an alternative – coffee house, music venue or restaurant – I might have been swayed to make another choice.

    It remains to be seen whether alcohol intake will decrease as a result of pub closures. Instead of social drinking, Britons just may well turn to private, isolated drinking at home with supermarket-bought booze. Nevertheless, villages without pubs will need to meet a social need. And I’m not sure that the self-conscious, class-conscious and overall hyper-conscious British are prepared to fill the gap.

    What do you think???

    A.A. hotline in the UK: (0845 7697 555)

About the author
Lee Weber is a published author, medical writer, and woman in long-term recovery from addiction. Her latest book, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Interventions is set to reach university bookstores in early 2019.
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