Italian binge-drinking set to reach UK levels in FIVE years

Doctors in Italy have warned that binge drinking is becoming such a problem it will reach British levels within five years.

In a nation famed for its moderate approach to alcohol, teenagers are increasingly
swapping a ‘healthy’ glass of red wine for the sugary alcopops targeted at a younger market.

In Milan city officials have stepped in, issuing 500 euro fines to under-16s caught with alcohol, or to those selling it to them.

A woman lies on a bench after leaving a bar

Italian doctors warn that binge-drinking will reach UK levels in five years

A 2007 study showed 38 percent of Italian students between 15 and 16 had reported binge drinking in the last month – up 23 per cent from 1995.

But this was still behind Britain’s 54 per cent.

‘We have not yet reached levels seen in the UK but in five years we’ll be there,’ said Dr Luca Bernardo, from Milan’s Fatebenefratelli hospital.

His hospital is in an area surrounded by bars and he said at least every two weeks its emergency room has to treat a young patient who is in an alcoholic coma or severely intoxicated.

'It's no surprise to see children as young as 11 to 13 in the emergency room,' said Dr Bernardo.

Alcohol advertising, new products such as alcopops aimed at a younger public, boredom and psychological problems can spur youth drinking, doctors say.


Italian authorities are grappling with a youth drinks culture modelled on their heavy-drinking northern European counterparts

In the Milan square near the San Lorenzo Columns, two hoardings overlook the scene: one is for Absolut vodka, the other for Nastro Azzurro beer.

At the bar on the corner where students in their 20s line up, the top drinks are cuba libre, vodka and lemon, gin and tonic, and various brands of beer.

In July, Milan became Italy's first city to crack down on youth drinking. In a move applauded by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, the business hub set €500 (£461) fines for the possession and consumption of alcohol by under-16s or those selling to them.

Alcohol's social and economic costs - estimated by the World Health Organisation in 2004 at 5 to 6 per cent of gross domestic product - include increased traffic fatalities.

Drink-driving kills about 2,800 young people every year, according to a proposal in March by centre-right ruling party MPs to raise the legal drinking age to 18 and reduce blood alcohol content allowed in driving.

Barman pouring drinks in a bar

The Italian tradition of only having wine with meals is giving way to heavy drinking

'Public opinion is quite sensitive to this,' said Senator Lucio Malan.

Highlighting the shift towards the northern European model, 2008 figures from national statistics office ISTAT show consumers of wine and beer are declining, while those choosing other drinks like spirits are on the rise.

The number of Italians overall who drink between meals has remained stable over the last ten years at one in four, ISTAT numbers show.

But among 14 to 17-year-olds, at 20 per cent, it has jumped nearly half in the last decade.

Dr. Emanuele Scafato, head of a Rome-based alcohol observatory collaborating with the World Health Organisation, said unlike such countries as France and Germany, Italy's measures against drink-driving and the sale of drinks to teenagers were light.

He blamed heavy advertising and alcopops for the new excesses, saying about €169million (£155million) are spent every year in Italy on alcohol advertising.

Massimiliano Bruni, professor at Milan's business university Bocconi, said there was little chance of pressure building for the government to tighten up on alcohol advertising; softer initiatives to promote responsible drinking look more likely.

'I don't see risks of intervention on this,' he said, noting that Italy was slower than other western countries to clamp down on cigarette smoking.

'There might be sensitising initiatives and it cannot be ruled out that in the future some products will be required to carry a label warning that alcohol damages health,' he said.

Dr Scafato said almost 70 per cent of night-clubbers under 16 bought alcoholic drinks in clubs and bars, and alcohol consumption among young people is often associated with games favouring heavy drinking.

The comments below have been moderated in advance.

The views expressed in the contents above are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of MailOnline.

We are no longer accepting comments on this article.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now