What does the word ‘binge’ mean to you? The Oxford English Dictionary (the ultimate arbiter in linguistic matters) defines the word as “a spree; a period of uncontrolled eating, drinking, etc.” and also notes its use as an intransitive verb.
To me, the key here is the use of the word ‘uncontrolled’ in the definition. My rather more colourful definition of a binge includes massive intake of alcohol, followed by a great deal of falling over and prodigious quantities of vomit. To me, it is also implicit that this behaviour is deliberate, that the person who is bingeing has set out specifically to get drunk. I thought so, you think the same. We know what ‘binge’ means, don’t we?
Well apparently, the NHS and the National Office of Statistics know better. According to Drink Aware (www.drinkaware.co.uk) ‘the marker used by the NHS and National Office of Statistics is drinking more than double the daily unit guidelines for alcohol in one session.’
The daily unit guideline is that men do not regularly exceed 3-4 units, and women do not regularly exceed 2-3 units.
What is a ‘unit’? A unit is simply 10ml of alcohol. The unit is a measure of how much actual alcohol is present. To calculate how many units there are in any drink, use the following formula:
(volume of drink (in ml) x ABV)/1000
so 1 pint of 4% bitter is (568 x 4)/1000 = 2.3 units.
Following on from this, 4 pints of 4% bitter is 9.2 units, so if you go to the pub at 8pm, drink 4 pints of average strength beer over the next three hours, you are on a binge. Where is the lack of control? For that matter, where is the drunkenness? I know that alcohol affects different people in different ways, but only people with a serious problem need to be afraid of drinking four pints over three hours.
We have to recognize this as a manifestation of the way in which the government and quasi-governmental organizations attempt to manipulate the world. Firstly, identify a problem – yes, there is a problem with ‘real’ binge drinking, particularly with younger drinkers in city centre bars. Second, persuade people that the problem is far, far worse than they could ever have imagined. To do this, set arbitrary limits, such as the 3-4 units a day for men. This limit is hotly disputed by many scientists. The group who came up with the numbers admit that they have no idea what a safe limit for alcohol is, and faced with a deadline (another manifestation of the way the world is manipulated) simply produced the result that they knew the government wanted. The culprit firmly in their sights (booze), the government now set about the punishment of the innocent. Ordinary drinkers, who drink responsibly and in a safe environment (their local pub) are taxed more and more. Pubs by the thousand are put out of business and guess what? The city centres are still full of genuine binge drinkers. The solution? More tax on responsible drinkers. The real solution, of course, is to identify the real culprit. It’s not booze at all. Alcohol abuse is a symptom, not a cause. The cause is the consistent failure of successive governments to address the real issues. Long-term unemployment, youth disaffection and rejection of the crappy world they see around them, and a massively unfair tax burden all contribute towards the desire just to find a way out, even if only for a few hours, and even if it results in crashing and burning.
What has also happened in this case, and is the trigger for this blog, is that a perfectly good English word with a well-understood meaning has been stolen by the neo-temperance brigade and given a new, unfamiliar (and incorrect) meaning, in an attempt to make us all feel guilty. The use of an emotive word such as ‘binge’ to describe a normal, perfectly controlled and harmless drinking session is typical of the pious, woolly statements of this sort of movement. It’s like saying that any contact with another person constitutes grievous bodily harm. What, for example, do they mean by ‘one session’? A session could be just a lunchtime, and yes, if you have four pints in a lunchtime, you are overdoing it. A session could equally be a long relaxed evening of four hours or so. Four pints in four hours? That’s a recipe for staying stone cold sober, hardly a binge.
Another example of woolly language is in the statement that a man should not ‘regularly exceed’ 3-4 units per day. What does that mean? If I drink 2 units per day every day except on Christmas day, when I consume 5 units, then I am regularly consuming more than 4 units. It might not be very often, but it is regular. What they mean is ‘frequently exceed’, not ‘regularly exceed’. We are forced to the conclusion that the writers of these statements are not competent in the use of the English language. They use incorrect words, and where no word exists to cover the situation they wish to describe, they kidnap a word that already has a well-defined meaning, and redefine it to satisfy their own sinister needs.
I am fully aware that alcohol abuse is a serious problem. I know the damage it can do to the lives of those affected and those around them. I know the health problems that can result. But it is the abuse of alcohol that is the problem, not alcohol itself. Just like the fact that it is the love of money that is the root of all evil, not money itself. Demonizing normal drinkers by putting them in the ‘binge drinking’ bracket does far more harm than good. Taxing drinkers out of the pub (assuming they still have one to go to) and into the supermarkets where they can buy massively discounted high ABV drinks to take home, is unbelievably stupid. But then, what else can we expect from our elected officials (of any shade) and their shadowy cohorts?
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