'Binge' drinking in the UK: a social network phenomenon

Mind and Society 8 (2):135-152 (2009)
Abstract
In this paper, we analyse the recent rapid growth of ‘binge’ drinking in the UK. This means the rapid consumption of large amounts of alcohol, especially by young people, leading to serious anti-social and criminal behaviour in urban centres. British soccer fans have often exhibited this kind of behaviour abroad, but it has become widespread amongst young people within Britain itself. Vomiting, collapsing in the street, shouting and chanting loudly, intimidating passers-by and fighting are now regular night-time features of many British towns and cities. A particularly disturbing aspect is the huge rise in drunken and anti-social behaviour amongst young females. Increasingly, policy makers in the West are concerned about how not just to regulate but to alter social behaviour. Smoking and obesity are obvious examples, and in the UK ‘binge’ drinking has become a focus of acute policy concern. We show how a simple agent based model approach, combined with a limited amount of easily acquired information, can provide useful insights for policy makers in the context of behavioural regulation. We show that the hypothesis that the rise in binge drinking is a fashion-related phenomenon, with imitative behaviour spreading across social networks, is sufficient to account for the empirically observed patterns of binge drinking behaviour. The results show that a small world network, rather than a scale-free or random one, offers the best description of the data.
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