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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 November 2007, 19:42 GMT
Attitudes to alcohol in Europe

Teenage drinker
Teenage drinking is a problem across Europe
The number of people in their late teens and early 20s being treated for alcohol-related illnesses is growing.

Is the problem as serious in other European countries and what do they do to reduce the incidence of binge drinking?


For many decades Swedes - including young Swedes - have had a rather low alcohol consumption when seen from a European perspective.

This has been due to a consistent national alcohol policy with a state monopoly on the sale of alcoholic beverages, strict rules on sales of alcohol to minors (defined in Sweden as under 20) and high alcohol prices.

Despite this, the trend has been upward ever since Sweden entered the EU in the early 1990s - due to increased access to cheaper alcohol in neighbouring countries.

However, in the past couple of years Sweden has seen a decrease in the level of teenage alcohol consumption.

The non-governmental organisation, the Swedish Council for Information on Alcohol and Other Drugs, publishes an annual survey of the drinking habits of ninth-grade students (aged 15 to 16).

For 2007 the statistics suggest that more than 30% of the students claim that they do not drink alcohol.

This is up from 20% non-drinking 15 to 16-year-olds in the late 1990s.

In real figures, the council has found that on average boys of that age drink 3.0 litres of pure alcohol, dramatically down from 5.3 litres at the peak year 2000 - girls consumed 2.2 litres in 2007, also down from 3.2 litres in their peak year 2005.

However, this decline is not seen among the slightly older Swedes. Young men in their early 20s in particular drink a great deal, and a great deal more than young women.

Young men between the age of 20 and 25 consume on average 14 pints of strong beer weekly while women of the same age group half as much.

  • By Julian Isherwood

    Since the government cut tax on alcohol by one third in March 2004, deaths and diseases from alcohol have all jumped by similar amounts in hard-drinking Finland.

    The cut was made due to cheap alcohol imports from neighbouring Estonia.

    Some young Finns have taken advantage of cheaper booze and now, although overall consumption among young people is declining, binge drinking is on the rise.

    "Among young people aged 16 to 17 years, binge drinking is more and more visible and definitely increasing," said Christoffer Tigerstedt, a senior researcher at social research institute Stakes in the capital, Helsinki.

    The Finnish love affair with the bottle shows no sign of abating. Alcohol-related diseases and alcohol poisoning taken together were the leading cause of death of working-age Finns last year, Statistics Finland said earlier this month.

    In an attempt to deal with the growing problem, the government has introduced adverts aimed at the young designed to shock them into more responsible drinking.

    "This new campaign has had an impact - some people have been moved to think before they drink. But what we really need is a change in the whole culture of alcohol in Finland and more public debate on the issue," Tigerstedt said.

  • By Sean Crowley

    Spain's problem with alcohol is minor compared with countries like the United Kingdom.

    The relative size of drinks in Spain is a good guide to the scale of the problem. When you order in a bar, the standard serving of beer is a caņa - a glass with a volume of 200 millilitres, just over a third of the size of a British pint.

    Many people start drinking in their early teens in Spain, but not just with their friends - often with their parents.

    There's a high social tolerance for alcohol consumption and the atmosphere in which drinking is done - in bars, restaurants - is usually relaxed and more suited to slower drinking than in some other countries. It is rare to see alcohol-fuelled violence.

    That is not so say that Spain is immune from alcohol issues.

    The Ministry for Health says about 5% of Spaniards have an alcohol-related problem.

    And, a phenomenon known as Botellon (Big Bottle), where young people meet and consume alcohol on the street is a cause of concern for some Spaniards who say it encourages binge drinking. Botellon has been banned in some cities.

    But you only have to go out at night in Spain to see that, generally, alcohol is well under control.

  • By Danny Wood

    Earlier this year, in March, a 16-year-old German pupil died after drinking over 50 tequila shots.

    His death brought attention to the rising problem of teenage alcoholism in Germany and led to some legislative changes.

    The bar owner who served the boy was arrested and is awaiting trial. He is charged with causing grievous bodily harm resulting in death.

    The government also decided to ban "drink all you can" parties, where guests could pay a certain amount to drink until they literally drop. It was at such a party where the 16-year-old had died.

    Although the overall consumption of alcohol here has declined during the past years, some now drink more than ever. German teenagers are number two consumers of alcohol in Europe, topped only by British youth.

    The problem is blamed on the fact that drinking is still a big part of German culture and that the alcohol industry is specifically targeting young people as new customers.

  • Nadja Korinth

    While Britain's teenagers have gained notoriety for binge drinking, their Latin cousins have always been renowned for their restraint.

    The quickest way to lose respect of your Italian friends and neighbours is to get drunk in public. Drinking on the streets is considered disrespectful.

    But in the past few years, this more reserved, continental etiquette to drinking has been changing.

    Over the summer the Italian government commissioned a series of reports which reveals a worrying new trend.

    According to figures from the health ministry 17% of the Italian population are binge drinking at least once a month. One in five teenagers admits to being drunk regularly.

    In 1996 there were 19,000 alcoholics in Italy receiving regular treatment - now there are 54,000.

    And this, says Emanuele Scafato, from the Italian Institute for Health, is merely the tip of iceberg.

    "Young people no longer drink for enjoyment," he said. "They drink to get drunk.

    "The relationship with alcohol is very different to what it was 10 years ago.

    "We blame the growth in the sale of alcopops, the way the industry encourages young people to drink to be 'cool'. These days you can't be 'part of the gang' in Italy unless you drink.

    "The second problem - is the breakdown of the traditional family unit. Drinking in moderation was something you learned from your father.

    "Young people were encouraged to enjoy a glass of wine at dinner. Now parents work longer hours, the rhythm of life is changing and so is the father son relationship."

    The authorities in Rome have tried to crack down on binge drinking and the related violence, forcing bar owners to close early and to sell drinks in plastic beakers instead of glasses.

    Last month the Ministry for Transportation forced through new changes to the law. It is now illegal to sell alcohol in discos after 2am.

  • By Christian Fraser

    How alcohol killed my son at 23
    13 Nov 07 |  Health

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