Drugged up on Drink

The drink industry has fought a “recreational drug war” in
order to win back the youth market. In a consumer culture characterised
by the search for instant gratification, one result has been the growth
in teenage drunkenness. This is the argument of researcher Kevin Brain
in a new paper* published today by the Institute of Alcohol Studies.

Based on surveys of teenage street drinkers in Greater
Manchester, the paper says that drinking to get drunk is now the normal
pattern for many young people. The search for “the big hit” is part of
psychoactive culture among today’s youth. In the past, drinking and pubs
were part of a community life which included restrain and control. Now,
young people with a hedonistic approach to life are looking for “time
out” when they can put aside inhibition and control. Drinking and drug
taking are part of this search. This new alcohol order, says Brain, is
adding to the problems of excessive drinking.

Brain identifies two main drinking styles which he calls
“bounded” and “unbounded” hedonistic consumption. In bounded
consumption, young drinkers have leisure spaces where they can “let
loose” without causing problems with family or work. Unbounded
consumption is for the socially excluded who are cut off from mainstream
society and for whom leisure time is all there is.

The alcohol industry had to deal with two challenges – the
decline of the traditional alcohol market, such as the pub, and the
explosion in the use of recreational drugs, which at one time threatened
the industry with the loss of an entire generation.

In response to these challenges, the industry created a “post-modern alcohol market”, which includes:

  • New alcohol products, designer drinks, aimed at young consumers and sold in café bars, theme pubs, and club bars.
  • An increase in the strength of alcoholic drinks in a direct attempt to compete in the “psychoactive market.”
  • Alcohol products being marketed in sophisticated campaigns explicitly as psychoactive drugs.
  • Brain says that a three-pronged approach is needed:
  • Tighter regulation of the alcohol industry.
  • Educational programmes which recognise the reality that in youth culture the alcohol and illicit drug cultures have merged.
  • Policies to tackle social exclusion

Kevin Brain is available for interview:

Daytime 07714 115312
After 6.00 pm: 0161 928 3458

A full copy of the paper

Youth, Alcohol and the Emergence of the Post-Modern Alcohol Order. IAS Occasional Paper No.1 2000 New Series, is available in pdf format 341kb).