EXPERTS say there has been the biggest cultural shift in decades in the way people drink in England.
Throughout Yorkshire, police and licensees say town centres are noticeably quieter on a Friday and Saturday night, as more people are prompted to drink at home because of heavily discounted supermarket prices and the growing availability of alcohol.
The recession has helped to accelerate the change, as has the closures of village pubs.
Harrogate has the highest increased-risk drinking in the region.
Martin Milks, manager of the town’s Balmoral Hotel, said: “In drinking terms, the shift towards home drinking is certainly not something I have ever seen before. There has been a definite change in social trend and it has become more noticeable in the past two or three years.
“Town is definitely quieter on a Friday and Saturday night than it used to be.
“Anybody who drinks at home will definitely drink much larger measures than if they were in a bar. People find it very hard to measure it, especially with spirits.
The declining numbers of people drinking out in Harrogate has helped to hide the long-term dangers to people’s health because statistics for alcohol-related hospital admissions and alcohol-related crime have improved.
PC Ed Rogerson, of Harrogate Police, who has been on patrol in the town for the past eight years, said: “I would say I have noticed that it is definitely getting quieter in the town centre during an evening. People are staying at home and drinking more. Possibly it is down to what is happening with the economy but people are staying at home.”
To help address the issue of increased-risk drinking, the Government is being lobbied to raise the price and reduce the availability of alcohol in shops, and has been criticised for being too close to the drinks industry.
Martin Caffrey, operations director at the Federation of Licensed Victuallers’ Association, with 40 years experience in the industry, said: “This has been a hidden problem until now. People are reticent to believe that they themselves have an issue and there is a vast difference between what people think is good for them and what is harmful. By drinking at home in an unregulated environment you can cause yourself real problems.
“The pub environment isn’t just a place where you go and drink, it is a social environment that drinking is part of. Alcohol is not the sole purpose and it is in a very controlled atmosphere where the measures are regulated. Heavily discounted supermarket prices are the biggest incentive for people to drink at home on their own.
“If a shot of spirits is poured at home, the chances are it will be at least a treble.
“If you are drinking at home, a glass is going to be far bigger than pub measures and also it is not a social atmosphere – at home, often you are just drinking and this means you will drink quicker.
“People talk about binge drinking but there is a growing culture of middle-aged people who drink at home regularly. We just want to encourage the social side of things again.”
A Department of Health spokesman said: “The Government has wasted no time in taking tough action to tackle problem drinking, including measures to stop supermarkets selling below-cost alcohol to tackle the very worst instances of deep discounting.
“Alongside this, our responsibility deal is working with the industry on voluntary agreements to get speedier results. We have already seen encouraging signs with Asda pledging to stop displaying alcohol at the front of the stores and Heineken promising to reduce the alcohol content of one of its brands.
“We have set out plans to ring-fence public health spending and give power to local communities to improve the health of local people. We will also be publishing a new alcohol strategy in the summer.”
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