The tabloids are calling binge drinking the new national sport, but these isles have always been wet. In Good Queen Bess's reign, the English embraced inebriation with such enthusiasm that Parliament passed an 'Act to Repress the Odious and Loathsome Sin of Drunkenness'. This didn't stop the Gin Craze of the 18th century, when the country developed such a taste for 'mother's ruin' that five new laws were introduced to control it. In the last century, wartime PM David Lloyd George described alcohol as 'Britain's greatest enemy'. His laws reduced its use by two-thirds by 1918, but cursed the modern British pub-goer with the 11pm bell for last orders. These days, it's different. Since 2006 (when alcohol was 65% cheaper in real terms than in 1980), pubs have been allowed to stay open into the small hours. But Brits still haven't adopted a Mediterranean-style cafe culture. Alcohol-related crime is soaring, costing us around £7.3bn a year, while alcohol misuse costs the NHS up to £1.7bn a year. The British Medical Association is calling for higher duties on booze. Drinkers will have to dig deeper or start on the home brew. Or find another hobby altogether.
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