Stance is hardly sobering

BINGE drinkers, both lads and ladettes, may be the bane of our times. But at least - apparently - they know what they're doing.The same, it seems, cannot be said for us poor ignorant over-35s.

Aidan Semmens

BINGE drinkers, both lads and ladettes, may be the bane of our times. But at least - apparently - they know what they're doing.

The same, it seems, cannot be said for us poor ignorant over-35s.

In the words of public health minister Dawn Primarolo: “It's clear from research that that age range is less well-informed, at times clueless.”

What we don't know is how much we're drinking. Which is why the government has decided to spend £10million explaining its guidelines to us.

It all comes down to that strange and arbitrary thing a “unit” - defined by the government as 10ml or eight grammes of pure alcohol.

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I was always a bit hazy on units and the trend towards bigger glasses and stronger wines and beers has made it all downright fuzzy.

Primarolo, refreshingly, wants to “guide and educate people… without wagging a finger at them”. Which is, I suppose, all we can hope for from a sensible, well-meaning government.

There are those who suggest an individual's drinking is no business of government at all. But alcohol wrecks lives as surely as any hard drug - and not just the lives of those who abuse it.

Take the case of my friend - let's call him John - who I helped through the turmoil of divorce.

The marriage was ended by drinking. Long-term drinking that began as moderate, became heavy, ultimately dependent.

It led to irrationality, erratic behaviour, aggression, ultimately violence.

The drinking in question was not John's, though for a while he tried to keep up with his wife - let's call her Janet.

After that, for years, he would accompany her to the pub most nights, supping one or two pints while she knocked back several. He might have one glass out of each bottle of wine that went down at home, maybe one shot from each litre of whisky.

John was living just about within the government's idea of safe drinking. Janet was living from day to day and from bar to bar.

Heaven and the medical profession know what the damage was to her liver.

From outside it was clear she was becoming quite seriously mentally ill, though in the classic manner of alcoholics she made concerted efforts to convince John that he was the sick one.

It was some time after the violence became regular that he decided enough was enough and left.

It was only afterwards that he told me how he was woken night after night to be verbally and/or physically attacked.

He would cook for her and have the meals thrown back at him - literally.

After many years of trying to make the marriage work he finally gave up when he no longer felt certain he wouldn't hit back the next time she assaulted him.

It has taken John several years fully to recover from the effects of Janet's drinking. Whether she can or will ever recover is more doubtful.

Of course, few of us can truly say we've never enjoyed a drink.

Few, if any, can say we've never observed and perhaps feared the effects of too much drink on others.

There is a bizarre inconsistency in a society which gives awards to good beer and good pubs while demonizing the purveyors of softer drugs.

I like a good pub, appreciate the sense of community that's now almost unique to a proper local.

But being part of such a community didn't stop Janet boozing. In fact, it was probably the attractiveness of pub culture that started her drinking in the first place. Knowing she couldn't really afford to drink so much, either in cash or health terms, didn't stop her.

So I don't hold out much hope for well-intentioned government attempts either to educate or tax away the drink problem.

But as long as booze is legal, it is at least theoretically possible to control and contain it. It is possible to some extent to regulate the supply and quality of drink.

And it is possible for those suffering drink problems to get medical help without fearing legal consequences.

All of which is where official policy on other intoxicants is so wrong.

Whether every aspect of policy on alcohol is exactly right is another matter.

Though what anyone other than Janet herself could have done to preserve her sanity, liver and marriage I don't know.

THAT noble, shaggy beast the American bison, or buffalo, once roamed the plains of the USA by milling millions.

Since last November, the size of the only remaining wild herd has been halved. From around 4,700, the Yellowstone herd in Wyoming has been reduced to just 2,300 animals.

Some of the deaths were due to a brutal

winter, but most were caused by hunters and slaughterhouses.

Just one more instance of humanity's bid to exterminate all other

living things.