'O God, that men
should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains!
that we should, with joy, pleasance, revel, and applause, transform
ourselves into beasts!'
Despite their reputation for reticence and reserve, British people love to drink. Alcohol oils the wheels of British social life - from the rarefied glamour of Royal Ascot and the traditional British wedding to the conviviality of a night out at the local pub or socialising after a day at work.
For many people, alcohol is an effective de-inhibitor, a
failsafe way of breaking down social barriers and bringing people
closer together. But the emollient effects of alcohol can easily
tip into drunkenness, as the rowdy Saturday-night streets of many
British towns will testify.
Social drinkers beware: at the beginning of the evening, drink is the ally of social confidence; at the end of the night, it is the enemy of social manners. One minute, drinking is making you feel on top of the world, bringing a flush of excitement to your cheeks, and lending wings to your wit; the next, you've fallen over on the parquet, that flush has mottled and the amusement has stalled mid-air.
Drunkenness is not infectious; if you are drunk, you cannot rely on the discreet intoxication of those around you, and the true drunk will inevitably be regarded as a social pariah. Drink makes fools of us all, plunging us from an agreeable state of intoxicated merriment and social bonhomie into maudlin introspection, verbal (and occasionally physical) aggression, or neediness and over-emotionalism.
We all know that moderation is the mother of good sense, that we should be happy enough with our one or two glasses of wine. Over-indulgence is socially unattractive, but complete abstinence can sometimes seem rude, anti-social and holier-than-thou.
The good news is that drinking-without-drunkenness is possible: eat well, alternate alcoholic drinks with sneaky glasses of water, never get drunker than your love interest and know your limits - the graceful drunk is always thinking beyond their immediate environment, alert to the warning signs of impending intoxication, and goes home before it ends in tears.
If you are handling a drunk who has failed to take this path, proceed with caution. It's too late and merely provoking, to forbid a drunk another drink: the most important thing is to stop them driving home, so call them a cab and give them their promised tipple while they're waiting. Don't bother berating them while they're still intoxicated - they won't remember it in the morning - but it's up to your conscience whether you resist the temptation to torment them with tales of their tipsiness in the morning.