Past Times: How to tackle drink problem

From The Shetland Times, Friday 29th September, 1961

Advocates of total abstinence in Lerwick, were advised by Dr A.G. Mearns, medical adviser to the Scottish Council for Health Education, that they “should not flog alcohol all the time” but should interpret it in a wider concept of temperance.

Speaking in the Baptist Church schoolroom on Monday night under the auspices of the B.W.T.A., Dr Mearns tackled the problems of putting across the temperance message. “You can see the response to this kind of meeting in the number present” he told his audience of 43. And he asked them “Am I going to make a hit at the shipyard gate with total abstinence?”

There were six kinds of temperance – in food, work, play, alcohol, tobacco and speech. Temperance meant self-control, and one must be temperate in all six. When a minister could say that his church was in a minority it was an admission of failure on his part. Dr Mearns spoke of a café he had seen in Lerwick on Sunday night with many young people in it – what would happen if a church had been open across the way; which building would the young people go to? If they went to the café, then the church must ask itself “Why?”

Dr Mearns advised the public to read several pamphlets – “The Facts of Alcohol,” by the Band of Hope Union; “What the Doctor Says About Alcohol;” and “What the Bible Says About Alcohol.” The problem of alcohol was an international one – there were two hundred cases of acute alcoholism in France every month; drunken driving cases had risen sharply in the U.S.A. in the last five years, many young people included; alcoholism in Ghana was described as “Public Enemy No. 1”; “The problem is truly a world-wide one,” said Dr Mearns.

Dr Mearns thought that the method of presenting the problems to youth could be brought up-to-date – one should never tirade or antagonise teenagers.

“Do not make the drunkard a figure of fun,” urged the doctor. “He is an emotional cripple.” The blind and deaf were not treated as figures of fun.

“A reformer should not attack the publican as a person but should attack his argument,” went on Dr Mearns. Alcohol was a habit-forming narcotic, not a food. The amount of energy produced was not proportionate to the amount consumed.

It was necessary to advise young folk that there was nothing wrong in being “the odd man out,” when asked to go for a drink. Whisky and rum contained 48 per cent spirit, but some of the fortified cocktails contained as high as 62 per cent.

Dr Mearns said that too often he had young girls in his clinic because they were pregnant or had venereal disease – they had gone to a party and had had too many drinks. Girls appeared in liquor advertisements, happy beautiful girls – but they would not be happy and beautiful very long if they became alcoholics.

A brewery paper said that the future of the industry depended on the extent to which the younger people – boys and girls – took to drink. The trade cared only about its enormous dividends – not if the individual drinker became paralytic.

“Drink makes for poverty,” said Dr Mearns “because many men drink too much, and do not support their homes as they should.” Some men earned between £25 and £30 a week, but only £5 went to their wives – the rest went to the pub, pools or bookie.

Dr Mearns said that there were far too many actors walking across the T.V. screen with a drink in their hands – and there should be a concerted attack on T.V. by all women’s organisations, whether they be Protestant or Catholic.


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