Children and Alcohol: The Debate About Methods of Managing Binge Drinking

There has been a lot of debate over the years on how to best limit alcohol abuse and binge drinking in developed nations.

Only today, there was another article, more results of further research. This time a Professor from Deakin University, Professor John Toumbourou, has said that even a sip of alcohol at a wedding or a glass of wine at dinner can send a child into a spiral of binge drinking and alcohol abuse (Dunlevy, Sue; The Daily Telegraph).

Do We Teach Children or Protect them?

Often, the other side of the argument will make reference is made to Europe. There are a number of nations in Europe where there is a culture of teaching children about alcohol at a young age. Italy and Portugal are two countries often discussed. But, there are also countries that have a strong culture of alcohol abuse and binge drinking. The dividing line appears to be around whether the country has a strong alcohol production basis. For example, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Germany all have a strong wine culture. All are considered to be countries that have a strong culture of educating younger people about alcohol. All have low rates of binge drinking.

Professor John Toumbourou said that his research proved the European model of educating children about alcohol from an early age as a model for reducing binge drinking was wrong. Europe as a region has one of the highest alcohol intakes in the world. But there is no doubt there is a wealth of information out there that supports the position that it does work. Look at the United Kingdom as a start point. A BBC news story displayed on the BBC news website (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/1180379.stm) showed that over a quarter of UK 15 and 16 year olds admitted getting drunk more than 20 times in their lifetime. Compare this to France, Portugal and Italy where the results were less than 5%. In Italy it was less than 2%.So is the Professor suggesting that the French, Portuguese and Italian children saying they have been drunk far fewer times because they have developed a resistance to it? They don’t feel as drunk because they can handle it better than their English counterparts?

Problem Drinking In Europe

There is a problem in Europe. There is a high level of dangerous drinking. However, when it comes to binge drinking that problem appears to sit in Scandinavia and the United Kingdom and Ireland. In fact, the Eurobarometer survey ‘Attitudes Towards Alcohol’ shows that the nations commonly connected with alcohol education at a younger age are those with the lowest binge drinking. That is, there is a very high proportion of people that have 1-2 drinks on days were a person has a drink.

By way of comparison, Ireland had 35% of respondents having more than 4 drinks, and 36% with 3-4 drink with only 26% having one to two. Italy is at the other end of the scale only 2 % having more than 4 drinks, 9% having 3-4 and a whopping 71% having 1-2 drinks. Italy also reported 17% as having less than 1 drink compared with Ireland’s 2%. Hard to refute those figures.

Young Drinkers in Europe

Even if we break those figures down into demographics, the 15-24 year old age group, the group most likely to binge, it still shows that 46% are likley to have only 1-2 drinks. Looking at the survey results, there are lower levels of alcohol abuse in countries such as Italy, Portugal and Spain, with Germany and France sitting somewhere in the middle but still at the lower end of the scale.

Statistics are funny things. You can make them tell any story you want if you know how to use them. However, it appears clear that alcohol is less likely to be abused in natures where there is a strong appreciation for the taste of the product rather than what it can do for you. Perhaps this is the way forward for everybody.

Craft Brewing An Option To Resolve the Problem

An example of the shift that may need to occur is the growth of craft brewing. Compare craft brewing with the output of the larger brewers. The beers produced at the larger breweries, the mass produced lagers and ales including low carb options, are produced for mass consumption. They are light the flavour so you can slam them down fast. Perhaps to fix binge drinking in developed nations we should look at supporting the craft brewing industry. And rather than trying to stop children rinking before they are 18, try and educate them about the flavours in alcohol. Teach them to savour and enjoy the drink, not the results it can give.

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