For a long time, many people have sought to informally compensate for excessive drinking at Christmas and New Year by abstaining from alcohol during the month of January. I have never been one of these people. I like to support my favourite pubs at the time of year they need it most.
This year the idea has become a trend, with columnists in national newspapers announcing their plan to go “dry” – and a couple of deeply misguided media initiatives which have met with an eager response.
Cancer Research UK is encouraging people to take part in a “Dryathlon”, donating the money they would have spent on drinks – a nice way to thank all the pubs who raise money for charity throughout the year. And prohibitionist outfit Alcohol Concern is running a similar project with the less catchy name “Dry January” (though it does have a more amusing logo showing a cup of tea adorned with a cocktail umbrella).
Both campaigns sell themselves heavily with the idea of freedom from hangovers. Quite frankly, if you regularly have a hangover you are probably drinking too much too often, and need to cut down across the board, rather than giving up entirely for a month.
The insidious message is that total abstinence is presented as the only alternative to getting drunk off your face every weekend and risking permanent damage to your health. It effectively accepts the notion that having a good time equates to drinking to oblivion, and that not drinking is a sacrifice.
This suggests to me that the prohibitionists do not dare to actually take on the binge drinking culture. The dry January becomes penance for getting drunk over Christmas. Instead of asking people to moderate their intake over the festive season, which seems to be beyond the pale, this campaign encourages “sinners” to “repent”. In true religious tradition, dryathletes can purchase an indulgence, in the form of a “Golden Pass”, an extra donation giving them “permission” to booze on one night during the dry month.
This is not serious. The binge drinking culture is dangerous and disgusting and provokes repression against all drinkers. If we want to combat it we need to promote realistic scenarios of responsible drinking – unfortunately all the current anti-alcohol measures of the Scottish Government undermine this aim, by cementing “pub” and “in front of TV” as the only legitimate occasions for consuming alcohol.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I don’t have a hangover because I wasn’t mashed last night, and the prospect of a crisp glass of refreshing beer is starting to appeal. I’m off to try and find a pub that’s open.