People of Britain: Rebel Against the Alcohol Nudge

17/11/2011 22:39 GMT | Updated 17/01/2012 10:12 GMT

On holiday in South Korea last month, I found myself 'nudged' into swapping my G&T for a cup of tea.

It was not that downtown Seoul lacked establishments happy to indulge my holiday Hendricks habit. Rather, bars were a hassle to find and not especially nice, while coffeeshops were plentiful, popular, and stylish.

So I joined the courting couples, the groups of friends, and boisterous colleagues and ordered a cheeky chai.

This wasn't my first encounter with socially acceptable, alcohol-free socialising overseas.

While in Eritrea, the national brewery ran out of beer. The locals calmly switched to delicious coffee, leaving me fighting the perverse cultural pull towards turpentine-style home brew.

In Belize, I realised that while I sipped rum and pineapple juice, our hosts chose straight pineapple.

Even at the height of my medical student days, where alcohol seemed a compulsory component of the degree, Americans stared in bemusement, glugging Cokes, as we lugged bottles of rum home from the supermarket.

Boozy nights out somehow seem culturally intrinsic to the British social experience. It is entirely typical to suggest "let's go out for a glass of wine"; eyebrows would be raised and children's parties evoked if someone suggested, "let's go out for juice."

I regularly encounter people inventing excuses, such as pretending to be on medication, to avoid the inevitable stigma from not drinking on a night out. A 'night out' is synonymous with drinking alcohol, and bars are a default venue for social events.

The International Bupa Health Pulse survey, which studied over 13,000 people in 12 countries around the world, found that only 4% of Brits have never had alcohol, compared to the international average of 19%. Furthermore, 37% report drinking regularly, compared to the international average of 17%.

It's Alcohol Awareness Week this week, and a good time to ask ourselves: why do Brits embrace alcohol more than others?

Is our self esteem so low that we need to augment dreary personalities? Are our friends so tedious that they need alcohol enhancement? And do these concerns genuinely trump the very real increased risk of major health problems from excessive alcohol, such as liver disease, heart disease, stroke, mental illness, and many kinds of cancer?

I suspect the explanation is that we don't dwell; we just follow the nudge to a convenient pub. Our social activities don't have to be based around alcohol-selling establishments - the market follows demand. Perhaps it's time for the British public to rebel against society's drinking culture nudge and demand a choice.