Long life

The elderly are society’s new baddies

Now that the young are turning tee-total, the best hope for the survival of heavy drinking lies with the old

21 February 2015

9:00 AM

21 February 2015

9:00 AM

The gulf in understanding between the old and the young has widened with the news that the young are beginning to turn teetotal. If there was one thing that the old thought they knew about the young, it was that they drank too much. British youth led the world in its enthusiasm for alcohol. Our cities swarmed with loutish binge drinkers. Yet now, all of a sudden, we learn that abstinence is becoming fashionable. The number of people under 25 who don’t touch a drop has increased by 40 per cent in eight years. More than a quarter of people in this age group now don’t drink anything at all. What is going on?

The conditions for heavy drinking would seem to be perfect: there is economic hardship and a generally gloomy outlook on most fronts. It can seldom have been more tempting to seek oblivion in alcohol. Yet the financial crash of 2008 seems to have had the opposite effect. It is since then that the tide has turned. It is true that times are hard and drinking is much more expensive than it used to be, but cost has never deterred the determined drinker. Nor is it possible to believe that government health campaigns have had much effect; they have never impressed the young. It is true that Muslims and Sikhs tend not to drink, but there are still not enough of them in our midst to have much impact on the statistics. There must be different explanations.

It could be that other addictions have been replacing alcohol. There is little time for group bingeing if one is glued to one’s computer or smart phone, and the digital world has its own numbing effect. Could it be, on the contrary, that the young are imbued with a new energy, optimism and sense of purpose? It would be nice to think so, but this would be really surprising. I am lost in incomprehension. But I have found from my own experience that far more people of all ages now turn down a drink when they are offered one.


The best hope for the survival of heavy drinking now lies with the old. It is to them that the health experts have turned their attention. More and more elderly men and women are now drinking too much, they say, because they don’t know what else to do with their free time. Once they have mown the lawn, or whatever else retired people do to keep themselves busy, they take out the bottle (for most of them the computer is probably no substitute). I can believe this, though how the experts think they know how much old people drink is something of a mystery, since they also say that this is a ‘hidden’ problem and difficult to detect. But this doesn’t stop them campaigning against it, warning of illness and early death and calling for higher alcohol prices in supermarkets, high though they already are.

Whatever the truth, I feel that they should leave us alone. Private drinking by the old may be a problem, but it is a private problem, not a social one. It is not a problem about which ‘something must be done’. Binge drinking among the young needs addressing, because it leads to violence and disorder on the streets. But you never see gangs of elderly drunks rampaging through city centres.

It should also be recognised that many people find it hard to get through life without a bit to drink, and it is often surprising how little it can impair their performance. Winston Churchill might not have withstood the strain of the war without regular doses of brandy, and Margaret Thatcher was dependent on a glass of whisky at bedtime. Even journalists, who are now pretty abstemious, weren’t noticeably worse at their jobs when they were regularly sozzled.

So everything is now topsy-turvy. The old are becoming heavier drinkers than the young, who are edging along the road towards teetotalism. The upshot is that the old are coming to be seen as the baddies in society, which is rather an invigorating change. It may even help us feel young again. So let us relish our new role and do so in peace.

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  • I hate this disguised puritanism: someone somewhere is having a good time: let’s stop it! Even if it’s legal, even if the only persons concerned are the drinkers themselves (older people nearly always take their drinks at home: I’m relatively young, and I do, having given up the wine-tasting clubbing). God forbid that anyone build up a tolerance and have the affrontery to hold their drink! God forbid that they might even be knowledgeable and discerning drinkers — even (gasp!) connoisseurs. Also, the kneejerk desire to raise prices to control behaviour REALLY gets up my nose, and I’m not even someone that buys my wine from supermarkets! Firstly, it’s un- and anti-democratic. Secondly, it hurts those on a small and limited income, while the richer people just go on blithely as before. Thirdly, it is unfair to industry of any kind to raise prices and make their products less affordable just because some busybodies don’t think people should enjoy them. So it’s anti-business and anti-free-market, as well.

    • Penny

      Well said.

    • Shorne

      “Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.”― H.L. Mencken

      • Ed  

        Mantra of the left. Or, as Charles Krauthammer once said, “you can do anything you like, so long as it’s mandatory”.

        • Shorne

          I think you’ll find the Fascists were quite keen on it too.

          • Ed  

            Don’t forget that the national socialists were exactly that; socialists.

          • Shorne

            In name only as you well know.

          • Ed  

            Oh, no, quite the opposite. National socialists were quite socialist. I’d like to direct you to points 7 and 11 of their own 25-point plan; the state shall guarantee everyone a job, and income that does not derive from work is to be abolished.

            National socialists were quite socialist.

          • Leftyliesrefuted

            Indeed. The only significant difference between the National Socialists and the Communists was that the latter killed a lot more people.

          • Ed  

            Meh. What you say is true enough in a limited way, but national socialists did not kill “few”. WWII and the Holocaust were quite bad enough, thank you.

          • Leftyliesrefuted

            I didn’t say that the National Socialists killed “few” people. They certainly didn’t – it’s estimated that they killed 11 million people in the Holocaust alone, for instance.

            But compared with – to give just one example – the 45 million people killed in Mao’s Great Leap Forward, the National Socialists killed a lot fewer people than the Communists.

            None of this is in any way diminishing the horror of the Nazis, just pointing out that extreme Left-wing Governments of all stripes have a disposition to murder enormous numbers of people.

            Which is something that all of us on the Right should never be shy of pointing out, however uncomfortable the truth may be to those of a Left-wing disposition.

          • Ed  

            Meh. They’re all horrible. Just stick to calling them bad, worse and worst.

          • bramhall

            You are right about the extreme left’s disposition to murder people. However do not forget that these murders were committed for the sake of everyone’s wellbeing and good!! Rather like heretics being burnt at the stake for their own good and the salvation of their souls

          • Alley Upta

            The heretics were burned to stop them misguiding others into eternal damnation. The best reason to burn anyone ever. And besides, they were only burned when they refused to desist and conform, so they had options.

          • Guest

            Blaming the left for your ideology, check.

          • Guest

            So as usual, you deny the fact that the Nazis were right wing, that they were very close to your ideology, and that the problem is extremism – especially extremists who refuse to admit how extreme their ideology is.

          • Leftyliesrefuted

            It really took you 9 days to come up with that risible stuff? But the late (and genuinely Right-wing extremist) Senator Joe McCarthy would be proud of you :).

          • Shorne

            Oh..have you got the uniform as well?

          • Ed  

            I didn’t say I liked it. If you’re going to defeat the socialist enemy, you should know him.

            National socialists; international socialists. To defeat, you must understand.

            You’re not some form of socialist, are you?

          • Shorne

            Yes the sort who votes Tory.

          • Ed  

            You appear to be somewhat unclear on the concept of “socialist”.

          • Shorne

            You appear to be somewhat unclear on the concept of sarcasm.

          • Ed  

            I wasn’t being sarcastic? I hadn’t realized. Thanks for clearing that up.

          • Guest

            Well of course you need to defeat a significant number of citizens.

            You keep conflating names, as you espouse an ideology right at home in National Socialism – which isn’t the same thing as socialism and does not belong in socialist thought at all.

          • Ed  

            Aha, but it does. National Socialism is deeply rooted in wider socialism.

    • Freddythreepwood

      Quite right. In Scotland they are banning the use of e-cigarettes in the grounds of all NHS hospitals. So you see, it is not about health; it is about ‘do as I say’.

      • Ridcully

        I’m afraid it’s happening South of the border too; the health centre I work in has also banned them

      • ChrisTavareIsMyIdol

        They are banning it because “It might encourage smoking”. No doubt they’ll ban Iron Bru as it “might encourage drinking alcohol”

        • Malcolm Stevas

          Yup, that glass of sherry at the vicarage will lead inevitably to your being slumped under a railway bridge swigging meths, one day.

      • Damaris Tighe

        It’s similar to all hatreds that demonise certain out-groups. It scapegoats anyone who chooses to emit smoke or vapour from their mouths. Have you ever seen the mad hatred in the eyes of these self-righteous people who not only disapprove of smoking & vaping, but want to erase the sight of it from their universe?

    • gerontius redux

      Might go back to home brew.
      Not for the discerning. Well the beer was quite good but the wine ranged from boring to really evil – sorta reverse wine-tasting thing and good fun for those with a dark sense of humour.

      • Helen of Troy

        You could make the wine for Guy Fawkes night and a) drink it after the good stuff’s been drunk and you’re not noticing anyway, and b) throw it on the effigy. I am fairly tolerant of styles and regions but I am a natural aristocrat of wine and I know the really good stuff at one sip and my sommelier pours (and buys) accordingly. My favourite birthday present ever was a case of 1989 Giacomo Conterno Barolo, which was heaven in liquid form. My second favourite gift was stupid and irresponsible and lovely, for Valentine’s Day — a lop-eared rabbit, whom I shall never forget. Nor the giver, who is the ghost of the dreams I told you about….

        • gerontius redux

          Well it’s a plan of sorts…

          I go to my wine-tasting club but I’m no more knowledgeable than when I started. I have a great time chatting with the librarians though, There’s something very interesting about a buttoned up gal letting her hair down a little.

          I’ve thought about it over the years, but cannot decide whether we would be better off without the dreams, or not.
          Probably not.

          • Helen of Troy

            I don’t want the dreams, and seek a cure. One of my fave times in a hotel in the Adirondack Mountains was when we were asked to make up the numbers of a food-wine pairing talk. It was great. I was very skeptical (I knew a lot about wine by then), but came away impressed, not to mention entertained. I love my dog, worship her. But while she lives I am not able to do these things, any more. If I have a biography the title will have to be Love Is Sacrifice. (If I were Joan Rivers it would have to be something like: ‘Love Makes You Pay — And Not At Discount Rates’.)

  • Marcussmod

    When I was a teenager, I Iike most of my peers had a decent paid apprenticeship that enabled us go out on the ‘lash’ every weekend.

    Huge swathes of modern youth, subsist on zero hour part time minimum wage jobs. They simply cannot afford to go out to pubs and clubs like my generation did in the 1970’s and 80’s.

    • commenteer

      Suggest you try travelling on any London tube train from the centre if you really think this. Stuffed to the gunwales every night with young revellers. Whatever is driving the new temperance, it isn’t lack of money.

      • Marcussmod

        This may be true in London which is a tourist attracting capital city and has high paying jobs in banking . It is not the case in many parts of the UK that have been deindustrialised. I was out in my old home town this Friday evening and the place was a ghost town. There is life outside of London you know.

        • commenteer

          I can assure you it’s not just ‘bankers’ (a very tiny section of the workforce), or tourists. Just ordinary Londoners of every nationality enjoying themselves. Yet thirty years ago I was uneasy about travelling on near-empty tube trains late in the evening. The economy is positively buzzing. I wonder whether it’s because people with drive and initiative all now make their way to the south of England, and London in particular.

  • Freddythreepwood

    I don’t believe a word of it. If the ankle biters aren’t drinking alcohol they will be on something else! This is this week’s survey. There will another one along soon.

    • Ed  

      Much of the truth lies not in the study, but in the left’s reaction to it…..

      • Guest

        Oh, you mean pointing out they can’t afford it. Right.
        Darn pesky facts.

        • Ed  

          Yeah. Don’t you hate it when you run out of other people’s money?

  • Chris Hobson

    The boomers are pure filth. The chickens are coming home to roost with cancer rates and heart attacks a result of their hedonistic exuberance.

    • Matt

      twat

    • Hedonism has almost nothing to do with it: the ‘diseases of civilization’ are caused by refined carbohydrates, in the main, and above all by sugar.

    • gerontius redux

      Irony becomes you Chris and I am still standing.
      Pip! Pip!

  • Kevin T

    That’s what the progressives want. Spotty 16 year olds who think Russell Brand is a visionary to be the driving force, people who have experienced life and see politicians for what they are to be marginalised.

  • JohnRich

    And now Labour are planning to cut our pensions !!!

    • Guest

      No, they’re planning to reduce tax breaks on your well-funded private pension. Ohnoes, you’ll have to pay some tax!

  • Peter Stroud

    I’ve always enjoyed a drink. I’m an oldie now, and still enjoy a drink: and I enjoy it in a good old English pub, as I always have. Many young people now are clearly hooked on the various forms of modern technology, and prefer this to a glass of ale, or a tot. ButI still see some enjoying pub life, and hope these numbers will increase. Anything to save the traditional pub.

  • ChrisTavareIsMyIdol

    “Winston Churchill might not have withstood the strain of the war without regular doses of brandy”

    Winston drank like a fish: Whisky, champagne, port as well as brandy , “regular doses of brandy” hardly covers it.

    • Freddythreepwood

      And he lived to a ripe old age, and in the meantime, saved the free world. All in a day’s work – would that we had him now, brandy, whisky, champagne, port, cigars and all. Tea total wimps they can keep.

    • Yes indeed: people that like drink rarely limit themselves to only one tipple!

  • Terry Field

    What a distorting lens this article sets.We are supposed to believe the present, super-selfish, morally and politically dissociated younger generation of booze-free ‘hardworkingstrivers’ are other than a mainstream bunch of self-serving, ruthless English people, just like every other generation of the tough little island.

    • Guest

      It’s simpler than that – the young don’t have the cash for alcohol. They’re spending what little they have on food, shelter and utilities.

      And yet there’s never enough cut from them, per the government.

  • Barba Rossa

    I worked all my working life from the age of 15… I may have got marginally more out than I put in…from the great pot, but here I am arriving at pension age and hoping for some creature comforts, before I croak.

    • Jackthesmilingblack

      Screw them. And they call me a sociopath.

      • gerontius redux

        Well we do actually.
        Behind your back usually, but on this occasion….

  • Mode4

    It isn’t Puritanism that has impacted the youth of our country. There are reasons why the young are turning away from alcohol. The prevalence of Muslim youth and cheap drugs instead of alcohol to get their kicks.

    • Bill Kendall

      and sitting around playing computer games instead of going out.

      • Guest

        Cheaper, Bill. Going out needs a lot more cash, you can’t do that on the minimum wage.

    • Guest

      So you didn’t read the article. They compensated for the small rise in the Muslim population, it’s nowhere near enough to explain it. Neither are drugs rising.

      Nope, the young are plain poor and not spending. Your plan is working.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Don’t mess with the elderly. They’ve got a lot less to lose.
    “Anyone seen that Semtex vest?”

  • Malcolm Stevas

    Part of England’s tendency to be censorious about drink, and heavy taxation of alcohol, stems from puritanism; mostly, I suggest, it’s inspired by government greed coupled with hypocrisy.
    Let no-one forget that the Conservatives are as bad as Labour in this respect, that the Conservatives include a number who might reasonably be called “Health Nazis” for their addiction to minimum-pricing for alcohol, and that rural pubs have closed in droves on their watch just as much as on Labour’s.
    I visit France a few times a year and always bring home a couple of bottles of good Scotch because it’s at least 25% cheaper than here. I’ve only visited one country where booze was more expensive – and that was Finland, the Scandinavians being even more addicted to oppressive nannying than our own lot.
    The blame lies with our established political class – don’t vote for them ever again.

  • jazz606

    There aren’t that many old heavy drinkers around.

  • William Cameron

    I enjoy drinking the odd glass (or two) of sherry or madeira of various kinds, I’ve been drinking these since my early-20s when they certainly weren’t “fashionable” amongst my age-group then and they are not fashionable now either (I’m in my early 60s, so definitely a baby-boomer), and of course I mostly drink at home. I harm no-one. Should I ever be found wandering drunk in the street (very unlikely, to be frank) no doubt there would be some kind of intervention, but until that happens leave me alone 😉

  • Bill Kendall

    What’s wrong with young people thses days?

  • Lydia Robinson

    There are so many articles these days about the evil baby boomers using up all the country’s resources. You’d think the Government would be pleased that they’d keel over of alcohol poisoning and encourage them to drink.

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