Binge drinking is on the rise in Mediterranean countries, study shows

A study into the drinking habits of adults in some parts of Spain has found that binge drinking is on the rise, suggesting that the EU should take action on this policy issue.

Although binge drinking has traditionally been associated with northern European countries, the study, published in the October issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental
Research, says that binge drinking is increasing among young adults, especially educated men, in the Madrid region of Spain.

The report also found that alcohol consumed by binge drinkers tends to be in the form of spirits rather than beer or wine, suggesting a clear shift away from the Mediterranean tradition of
drinking a glass or two of wine each day to accompany meals.

‘Although traditionally, southern European countries had a pattern of higher per capita consumption, most of which was derived from daily consumption of wine with meals, this is changing,’ said
Joan Villalbí, a medical doctor at the Autonomous University of Madrid.

‘For example, daily consumption with meals is decreasing in Spain, and beer is the most consumed alcohol. Binge drinking, particularly among youth on weekend nights, has become a health and
social issue in Spain, a process mirrored in other countries of southern Europe,’ he added.

The researchers base their findings on data gathered between 2000 and 2005 through telephone interviews of 12,037 people aged between 18 and 64 in the Madrid region. Binge drinking was defined
as drinking eight or more units of alcohol for men and six or more for women during one drinking session.

The results showed that 30.8 per cent of men and 18.2 per cent of women aged 18 to 24 years were binge drinkers.

‘Although drinking to drunkenness is not socially acceptable in Spain, binge drinking is becoming acceptable, especially among youth,’ Dr Villalbí concluded.

‘Binge drinking seems to be an ‘imported drinking pattern,’ based on spirits, such as gin, whisky, vodka, etc, which are not culturally rooted in Spain,’ said Jose Lorenzo
Valencia-Martín of the Autonomous University of Madrid, one of the authors of the study. ‘We think that spirits are mainly used in bingeing because drinkers may seek the psychoactive
effects of alcohol in a relatively short time.’

‘Spirits and liquor combined with coke or other sodas are popular among the young,’ added Dr Villalbí. ‘The liquor industry has been very active in marketing its products among youth,
particularly ‘alcopops,’ and circumventing the current ban on TV publicity of drinks of more than 23 percent alcohol. Their marketing is directed explicitly to the younger age groups, linking
drinking with fun and social and sexual success. There is data documenting an extreme growth in alcohol publicity expenditures and its related impact in Spain over the last few years.’

Both researchers believe that binge drinking is part of an evolving pattern of alcohol consumption across European countries, another consequence of what Dr Valencia-Martín calls the
globalization of drinking.

‘Obviously it is a very risky consequence, because binge drinking is associated with traffic crashes, hazardous driving behaviour, and injuries resulting from violent behaviour,’ he said. ‘In
Mediterranean countries, we must increase the social awareness of this problem, so that families and the government work together to control binge drinking among the youth.’

Dr Villalbí concurs. ‘If drinking is becoming a social and health problem, with important negative effects involving also non-drinkers, it cannot be left to individual options and
industry initiatives,’ he said. ‘Governments must also be involved and take action. These results provide the framework for an increasing interest in European Union policies in this field.’

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