Would you have to be a freak to avoid alcohol in Britain?

I’m surprised. This being the Straight Dope forums, and particularly GQ, and no one has cited official surveys!!

US. Data from the NSDUH 2004:

About half (50.3 percent) of Americans aged 12 or older reported being current drinkers of alcohol in 2004. This translates to an estimated 121 million people and is similar to the 2002 and 2003 estimates.

More than one fifth (22.8 percent) of persons aged 12 or older participated in binge drinking at least once in the 30 days prior to the survey in 2004. This translates to about 55 million people, comparable with the 2002 and 2003 estimates.

In 2004, heavy drinking was reported by 6.9 percent of the population aged 12 or older, or 16.7 million people. These figures are similar to those of 2002 and 2003, when 6.7 and 6.8 percent, respectively, reported heavy drinking.

UK. British Govt. website:

*When asked what alcohol they drank in the previous week:

* Nearly two-thirds of men and half of women drank alcohol at least once
* Seventeen per cent of men and eleven per cent of women drank on five or more days
* Twenty per cent of men and eight per cent of women had been binge-drinking on at least one day.*

I can’t seem to find the quantitative UK equivalent readily, so the above will have to do.

I think you forgot to add this link as well


With regard to the OP, I think Gorilla Man 's first post pretty much said it all.

But I’d like to add it seems to me that there is still a lot of status given to people who can ‘hold their drink’, both in the UK and Ireland. Drinking prowess is important as to how others see you, therefore a little exageration wouldn’t be that surpsiring. It is perfectly acceptable if not obligatory to regale work colleagues with tales of how bad your hangover is, how you had to spend all Sunday in bed, how much you drunk, where and if you threw up or not, from what point in the evening do you start to have memory blanks etc. As a result, in my humble experience, many people automatically, spontaneously, (sub-consciously?) provide a reason (an excuse?) when not drinking or not drinking to excess.

One ridiculous example of this which always sticks in my memory was back in '98, in Farnham a genteel little town south of London. My belly dancing group went for a drink together after the last class - picture a group of middle aged women (except myself and someone’s daughter, both in our late twenties) at 9pm, midweek - I ordered a pint the only one to do so, almost everyone made some comment along the lines of “I remember when I used to drink pints” “Ah you’re lucky, I’m driving” “That reminds me of when I was a student” “mm I can’t drink pints any more but …” “I’d join you but I have to get up early tomomrrow” etc. etc. as if they felt the need to explain why they weren’t drinking as much as me. (Yet when I first went to pubs I had male friends who thought it improper that girls drink pints at all!)

Another undeniable thing is that in the UK a lot of people drink to get drunk.

I’m British, and I’m a tee-totaller, and I am so with no particular reason (my actual reasons are it’s bad for you, it tastes vile, it costs a lot of money and it makes people act like a twat, so why would I want to do that?).

I would echo quite a few of the points in this thread: people in Britain DO drink simply to get drunk, and for some people ‘get drunk’ means blacking out or having their stomach pumped after getting into a fight (although that is the minority). There is also a certain status to drinking prowess, and getting drunk on one pint would have you labelled a light weight, although you’d only be teased about it. Conversely coming to work on a Monday and saying that you spent the whole of sunday throwing up because you got so wasted on Saturday seems to a lot of people to be acceptable (and sometimes it feels it’s expected to be praise-worthy). Also some professions are very dominated by drink e.g. people who work in the City financial institutions where people “work hard and play hard”, footballers who can’t seem to go a week without getting slaughtered and doing things like urinating on a bar top etc - that actually did happen a couple of years back. I would also agree that drinking is very much more an integrated part of our culture - people go to the pub and socialise all the time and going out “for a drink” is how most friends or dates happen (although going for coffee seems to be equally acceptable in London, shame I don’t drink that either…).

My own experiences of being tee-total vary depending on who I’m with and what I’m doing. I tend to avoid pubs and bars on the grounds that they’re boring (they tend to be full of drunk people and it’s hard to have a decent conversation with someone who’s not sober if you are), but when I do go to them it’s normally with friends or colleagues and I’m not pressured into drinking. However I’m slightly unusual in that I have NEVER drunk, and never been drunk, and a lot of people find that very very hard to comprehend. Giving up drink people can understand, but telling people that you’ve having never actually been drunk can often lead to the “does no compute” face. I have had a few occasions where people have tried to nag me into trying alcohol (“kindly” offering me to buy me a drink) or not accepted that choosing not to drink is a valid way to live.

I had a conversation with someone once that was essentially him saying “but you can’t go to your death bed and never have experienced being drunk, you just can’t!”. I see no logic to this reasoning at all - I intend to go to my death bed having never tried heroin or having beaten someone to death as well, are you going to try and convince me I’m missing out on something there too?

So no, you’re not considered a freak, but you are definitely unusual.

At my brother’s wedding I was taken to task by a relative for not running straight to the (free) bar and downing five pints of ale as quick as possible.

At my office xmas meal two weeks ago several older managers (not senior, just older) thought it suprising that a few of us young 'uns weren’t getting shitfaced on cheap white wine.

(Wasn’t 'cos we don’t drink, it was more a desire not to get drunk with lecherous old men / women!).

But among my own peer group (educated professional 20-somethings) it’s not at all unusual for someone to come to the pub and just order soft drinks.

Usually it’s because

  1. they’re skint


  1. they’re fat and need to drop a dress size

To be fair, I don’t know many people who are 100% teetotal, but it wouldn’t raise any eyebrows if a person was… different situation with my finance’s friends / family where “not drinking = soft southern poof”.

I remember seeing an article on British drinking in some newsmagazine a few weeks back. I think it was Time. Anyway, it’s at home if I still have it and I’m not, so I can’t cite it at the moment, but the gist of it was that British people do drink more than Americans. Particulary when it comes to binge drinking.

I hardly drink, compared to my peers (to the extent that on medical questionnaires, I never really know whether to put zero in the units consumed per week box - it’s almost true); it causes me no trouble at all. Of course I rarely find myself in situations where alcohol is available and when I do, that tends to be the times I have a drink, but I don’t think anyone would bat an eye if I simply chose a coke or something.

I’ve you’ve never had a drink, how do you know it tastes vile?

You’re supposed to prefix that with “ha-HA!”

Or a simple “J’accuse!!!” (with pointed finger) :slight_smile:

I moved from the US to the UK for work a while back.

I definitely think that they’d think you were weird if you didn’t have at least one drink with them, to be sociable.

I also noticed that ales were generally perferred to lagers. Although, I’m surprised how popular Budweiser is over there with the younger crowd.

I’m not much of a drinker, but while I was over there, I would drink up to 5 pints of beer a night, three nights a week and developed a pretty good tolerance to its effects.

I was concerned that all of that drinking was unhealthy, so I quit going to the local pub. My boss actually called me on several occasions and told me that I wasn’t drinking enough and that it wasn’t healthy for me to stay home! He was worried that something was wrong with me. Ha!

I’m back stateside now, and I probable drink a six pack a month. Although, I do have better tastes in beer, after my trip!

I will say that it seemed that the ladies weren’t expected to drink as much.

Also, “drink driving” was a big deal over there. I was impressed how everyone seemed to have a DD that abstained from drinking. Which is important since they drive on the wrong side of the road over there! Just Kidding!


Okay - I have tasted drinks, i.e. sipped things, a few times. For the sake of clarity, I have never been inebriated or even tipsy or spinny. Better?

And I get that question a lot too, frequently with the “ha HA! caught you out you lier!” tone of voice as if at the thought of me having tasted alcohol the world suddenly becomes okay again.

I remember the article. It was about a proposal to extend pub hours later in the evening, in hopes to lessen binge drinking, on the theory that the early closing law encourages people to quickly drink as much as they can before they have to leave.

See, I can NEVER imagine that happening in the US.

I am American, with a British husband and in-laws. The lengths my in-laws go to to drink astonishes me. Recently, they paid about $100 to have a taxi take them to and from a distant wedding just so they could drink. Wow. Of course, they are just one family, not all of British society. From what I have observed, though, the “default” in the UK is that you drink. I am not sure that assumption is the same, or as strong, in the US. As for the image being hyperbole, I have to wonder why drinking is part of the image at all. Surely that says something about the importance of drinking in the culture.

Several years ago I attended the wedding of a family friend. One of the guests – let’s call him “Fergus” – came over from England, where he grew up. Fergus was about 22-25 years old and he had completed medical school in England and was doing his surgical internship or whatever the British equivalent is. In other words, people’s lives could be put into Fergus’s hands in a hospital somewhere.

At the reception, champagne was served at every place setting. Many of the guests were not drinkers and most tables had partially full champagne glasses. As soon as the formal part of the proceedings ended and the guests began leaving their tables, Fergus started going around to every table and draining every glass he could find.

Then, after the reception, many of the guests ended up back at the bride’s parent’s house. Those of us in the relatively younger (under-30) set were hanging out and eventually it was decided that we would not go out to a bar or dance club because there were several teen-agers in our group who would not be able to join us, so we all decided to just hang out and shoot the breeze. No problems for most of us – we enjoyed the company and the occasion.

Fergus, however, was outraged. “This is my cousin’s fucking wedding day!” he ranted. “I want to go out and DRINK! What’s the matter with you people? Let the kids stay in; it’s their own misfortune that they’re under-aged!”

Most of us Americans – those on both sides of Fergus’s age – found his behaviour bizarre and immature. Why did he have such a hard on for drinking? From our point of view, he was acting like some out-of-control frat boy. Why did he act like it was unthinkable for the rest of us not to insist on going out to drink?

So, is it a British thing?

That looks a lot more like an alcoholism thing.

Just a couple anecdotes here.

A good friend of my sister’s did his first year as a Presbyterian minister in Scotland. He was from a pretty conservative congregation in the U.S. and didn’t drink at all. When he would go on home visits in Scotland, the nice old ladies would pour him a scotch. He’d tell them thank you, but he doesn’t drink. On multiple occasions, their response was to pour the scotch into a teacup, add tea, and hand it back to him. He came back a diehard lover of single malt scotch.

In a previous job at a large international corporation, the department I was in was a global one – it had offices in every city where the corporation had a major presence. When we would get together for semi-annual conferences, it was widely known that you were in big trouble if you tried to keep up with the crew from Brighton. Matching them drink-for-drink was not considered survivable by most.

I have to say, though, acsenray, your Fergus fellow is the first person I’ve ever heard of to actually engage in the practice of “bayonetting the wounded” (the abandoned drinks at the other tables) – although, given that there’s a term for it, other people must do it too.

Medical students drink a lot, on average.