Binge drinking spreads to Italy
Italy takes steps to stop binge drinking, which is growing among Italians thanks to the influx of hard-drinking tourists.
It's 2 a.m. and the hours of sustained drinking are taking their toll. Smashed glass and plastic cups litter the streets, trash cans overflow with empty beer cans, and girls in high heels and short skirts totter unsteadily out of rowdy pubs. But this is not London or New York. It's Rome.Skip to next paragraph
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Italians have long been regarded as a model of Mediterranean restraint when it comes to alcohol consumption.
But all that is changing, for a complex mix of reasons. Italian parents, struggling in the country's worst recession since World War II, are working longer hours and have less time to supervise their teenagers.
The long-cherished tradition of drinking alcohol only as an accompaniment to eating has been severed, with drinking – and getting drunk – now seen as an end itself. The "rhythm of Italian life is changing," says the director of the Italian Institute for Health, Dr. Emanuele Scafato.
Beverage companies aggressively market ready-mixed drinks and "alco-pops" to teenagers, bombarding them with the message that alcohol consumption is sexy.
And Italians' attitude to alcohol has been transformed by the increasing numbers of young foreign tourists who descend on the country, particularly in the summer months. Budget flights have put Rome and other Italian cities within easy reach of young British, Irish, and other hard-drinking northern Europeans, not to mention Australians and Americans.
"We are seeing a strong Anglo-Saxon influence on the culture of drinking," says Gianluca Cecchini, the owner of Q's Bar in Trastevere, a cobbled Roman quarter of twisting alleyways and Renaissance piazzas just over the Tiber River.
"It's got much worse in the last five years. There's a lot more violence, and you see groups of 15 or 20 young teenagers drinking in the streets and causing trouble. "There are gangs with knives. It's becoming just like England," says Mr. Cecchini, standing next to a plaque behind the bar which reads, in English: "A pint a day keeps the doctor away."
Alcoholism on the rise
The statistics are alarming, prompting the Italian government to describe the problem of alcohol abuse as a national emergency.
In a report released last month, Italy's Alcoholics Anonymous said that in the under-18 age group, 42 percent of boys and 21 percent of girls binge drink (defined as heavy consumption in a short period with the goal of intoxication) on weekends.
Around 1.5 million Italians between the ages of 11 and 24 are now considered to be at risk for alcoholism. The number of diagnosed alcoholics here has tripled in the last decade to around 60,000 out of a population of 60 million.
For Italians, becoming drunk in public was once a social taboo – a cause for shame, particularly for women. But now, neighbourhood enoteca bars, where a glass of wine is often accompanied by a plate of cured meat and bits of cheese, are being crowded out by British-style pubs with names like The Drunken Ship and Sloppy Sam's.
"They are drinking a lot and they are drinking to get drunk," says Andrea Codispoti, a barman in a hole-in-the-wall pub off Rome's Piazza Campo de' Fiori, in the heart of the city's historic center. "They don't even like the taste of alcohol, but they feel that they need to get smashed to look cool in front of their friends."