Should we aim for a more European-style drinking culture?
There is a commonly held myth that in European countries such as France, Italy and Spain, alcohol is widely available and children are introduced to alcohol at a young age which helps them learn to drink responsibly. The myth suggests that these countries do not experience the ‘binge-drinking’ and other problems that Australia is experiencing. This myth is often used to support suggestions that Australian liquor laws should be relaxed and parents should introduce their children to alcohol early.
In reality, the many differences between Australia and these European countries mean that Australia cannot be directly compared with such different cultures. Traditionally in these European countries, drunkenness has not been accepted, alcohol is generally consumed with a meal, what they drink is different, and the night time economy is much less alcohol-focused than it is in Australia (i.e. restaurants and shops are open late).
Alcohol harm statistics do not support the suggestion that European countries experience lower rates of harm from alcohol. Some European countries, such as France, Italy and Spain, experience much higher rates of alcohol-caused chronic diseases and road crashes.
‘Le binge’ drinking or ‘beuverie express’ is an increasing problem in France, with particular concerns about drinking by young people. A phrase used elsewhere in Europe is ‘coma drinking’.
Research shows that adolescents who reported repeated drinking at home with their parents are more likely to report risky drinking in later adolescence than those who did not drink alcohol.
As UK alcohol policy expert Professor Sir Ian Gilmore points out, it is easy to make claims that we should move towards a “Continental, wine-sipping cafe culture” but the best advice is “Don’t go down the path of deregulating and treating alcohol as a normal commodity”.