Video: British boozefest
updated 11/29/2005 2:50:25 PM ET 2005-11-29T19:50:25

'Tis the season to be jolly. However, in Britain, a dramatic increase in excessive drinking has called the government to rethink the law.  The government wants to end what has happened all too often in the country -- heavy drinkers pouring into the streets at the traditional closing time of 11 p.m.

In the first major overhaul of alcohol serving laws in 80 years, pubs, restaurants and nightclubs no longer have to close at that time.

More than 70,000 drinking establishments have applied for the extended hours.  And some have been granted licenses to stay open 24 hours a day.  The argument is that later closing times will lead to more civilized drinking.

"I think it probably will, actually, because there won't be such a rush to get the drinks finished by 11," said Pub Manager Osin Rogers.

Alcohol abuse is costing Britain $3 billion a year.  Binge drinking has become a national embarrassment with three in five men and one in five women consuming an unhealthy amount of alcohol. 

Another problem is alcohol-fueled violence.  After midnight, 70 percent of emergency room admissions are alcohol related.  Police say last call in Britain is a problem no matter what the hour. 

Said Jeremy Paine, a police superintendent and opponent of the new measure: "People will be spending more money on alcohol and drinking more to excess, then there will be more violence.  There's no doubt about that."

In addition to the change in the law, the government is spending millions of dollars in an anti drinking campaign, but it's unlikely to influence how much people drink. 

"We're going to see the same drinking patterns that we have now, but happening later into the night," predicts a spokesperson for a group called Alcohol Concern.

The change in the drinking law may alter forever how the British socialize.  The government is hoping its citizens will be sober enough to enjoy it. 

So far, the results have been positive. In Bournemouth, in Dorsett, where 51 different bars are licensed to serve round the clock, police said Friday night was quieter than usual.  Same in London, in New Castle and Noddingham and Liverpool. 

NBC's Keith Miller contributed this report to 'Countdown.' Watch 'Countdown' each weeknight at 8 p.m. ET

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