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Drunks make themselves at home

According to a new United Kingdom-wide survey conducted by the charity Drinkaware, 46% of 10 to 14-year-olds have seen their parents drunk. Naturally, this has horrified the usual temperance suspects, who believe such behaviour encourages excessive drinking as a "cultural norm" in children.

Yet it can work the other way. My own parents barely drank. However, in the 1970s, they would, of a Sunday, go to a pub with a car park. 

We three boys would be locked in the car, society deeming it unthinkable that we be exposed to the sight of drinking, such were the taboos about kids and alcohol in those days. Occasionally my dad would come out with a tray of crisps and pop, then disappear again into the alehouse.

The result? Not only did we restive boys brawl like tiger cubs in a sack, tearing the upholstery of the Morris Minor to pieces, we developed a fascination with what went on in these forbidden, alluringly yeasty premises; one which made hearty alesmen of all three of us come adulthood.

Might a more mature, open, European approach to drinking culture have prevented this, if, indeed, prevention of making life tolerable by legitimate, liquid means is desirable?

Melanie McDonagh
My grandfather was an Irish sailor; when he was home he would, as a matter of habit, get drunk about once a week and, with equal predictability, be taken by police and put away in a cell (those were the days) to teach him the merits of sobriety. Duly, my father, a teenager at the time, would be dispatched to get him out of jail. My grandfather was remarkable as a drunk in that he was nicely behaved – my grandmother observed he never used bad language when he had taken drink. But the effect of even this mannerly drunkenness on his daughter was to turn her into a teetotaller, though my grandfather later renounced drink. 

There was a lot of alcoholism in Ireland in the 1930s and 1940s and it accounted for more human misery than can easily be explained, including most domestic violence. Drunkenness is not an amusing condition; it's often scary and almost always shameful. 

My aunt was turned off drink by my grandfather; less fortunate children of habitual drunkards turn to drink, not away from it, as the Drinkaware study shows. Not in front of the children, please!

David Stubbs
Domestic violence is certainly an alcohol-related problem, though I suspect its root causes would not be tackled by mere prohibition, and all the attendant miseries of compulsory sobriety.

As for drunkenness not being an amusing condition, there I'd differ, citing, I'd estimate, 2 765 instances of my own knowledge to the contrary, one of which involved a grown man ill-advisedly climbing a tree one night and spending 30 minutes forlornly miaowing for assistance. 

Which brings me to my own parental situation. I asked my daughter (nine) if she had ever seen me drunk. She said no. Once the self-congratulatory flush at this tribute to my high-functioning powers had passed, I felt a pang of dismay, first of all at her poor powers of observation but secondly, because I suspected I'd been remiss in my fatherly duties.

She probably should see me conspicuously drunk. Bad habits like smoking are taken up because of their aura of cool and sophistication. Were she to see me trousers on head, Bonnie-Tyler-power-ballad-bellowing, into-the-hamster-cage-vomiting, royally and utterly slaughtered, she would think "not cool, definitely not cool". 

The effect on her, I'm convinced, would be the same as it was on my teetotal grandma, when she witnessed what a sozzled ass my gin-soaked great-grandfather made of himself nightly.

David does present a terrible spectacle here; yep, I don't think his daughter is going to be under any illusions that drunkenness is cool. And of course, simple drunkenness does not mean alcoholism, which is perhaps the most dismal condition for any child to live with. But what the figures mentioned in the Drinkaware survey suggest, if not prove, for it may be that there's a genetic element in drinking to excess, is that children do tend to follow their parents' example.

I drink, though not much, and my children have, from an early age, followed suit, in very small glasses. I thought this was harmless, but was taken aback when my six-year-old daughter once finished off a bottle of champagne she found left over from dinner and ended up drunk. 

Like David, I distrust anything savouring of prohibitionism, but it's just one extreme, with habitual drunkenness at the other.

GK Chesterton once wrote an essay against prohibition from Spain, "where everybody drinks wine and it is almost impossible to find a drunken man". It's that approach I'd like children to adopt. Unfortunately, southern nations are adopting our drinking culture faster than we're adopting theirs.

A cautionary story about Melanie's daughter. I can only say that in my house no bottle of champagne would be left unfinished. 

As for children following their elders, I believe in getting drunk responsibly. This requires a moral fibre I find lacking in others, but hope it sets an example to the younger generation, who might, incidentally, look to their own, rowdy behaviour and examine what it is about them that drives their parents to drink, or is it unfashionable to suggest that children should take responsibility for their actions? 

I'm glad Melanie drinks at least a little. I mistrust teetotallers. I think they're up to something. The notorious, scheming prime minister, Giulio Andreotti, the "Prince of Darkness" of Italian politics, with alleged mafia links, was also abstemious. "I have no minor vices," he said. Two bottles of wine a day might not have been good for his own health but, in dousing his capacity for malign machinations, might have vastly improved the health, of the Italian state and all its children. To drink isn't merely to be prone to violence; it is to be human, convivial, laid-back, incapable of doing much harm, or doing much at all, really. There are worse things a child could emulate.

Far be it from me to take issue with David on this one: I always felt that when Christ turned water into wine at the wedding at Cana he put paid to the notion of teetotalism. Wine is one of the markers of European civilisation; the same, I'm afraid, can't be said about the drink that contemporary teenagers put away so as to get drunk before they even leave home on a Friday. But how it is drunk is also a marker of civilisation. 

Friends in Italy drink with meals, instinctively in moderation. And until the British way of drinking took hold there, so did their children. If nearly half of British children have seen their parents drunk, it suggests the parents don't know how to drink and should be taking to heart Mr Aristotle's dictum about moderation in all things, including good things. I repeat: drunkenness is a real and growing social evil, drink is not. 

Without taking at face value National Health Service propaganda about the costs of alcohol to the service as an argument for minimum pricing, we can see in any city in Britain that our teenagers associate getting drunk with conviviality. And it seems they're getting the idea at home. That's bad parenting. Cheers. –© Guardian News and Media 2013

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