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Saturday, September 20th, 2003, 12:59 AM
How the Europeans drink

As Britons were revealed as the biggest binge drinkers in Europe, BBC correspondents look at European attitudes to alcohol.

By Sarah Rainsford
BBC Moscow correspondent

A famous Russian saying claims drinking beer without vodka is like throwing money to the wind. Few people here see any point in half measures.

Beer and wine sales are rising, but vodka remains the national tipple of choice.

Serious drinking remains mainly a man's game

I have been offered vodka by farmers as they brought in the harvest and by teachers on the first day of school. And it is there, and unavoidable, at almost every social occasion.

The Russian approach is simple. Once a bottle has been opened it is rude not to finish it.

And that means downing shot after nose-wrinkling shot, washed down with whatever is closest. There is usually a special toast for every round.

There's no real tradition of a quick pint after work. Having a drink in Russia tends to mean something sat-down and more serious.

It usually comes with something more substantial than an extra-sized bag of crisps.

The restaurant culture is growing for those who have money but most alcohol is still consumed at home, around the table.

Serious drinking remains mainly a man's game. There is little shame in being drunk. But in some circles refusing a round is a sign of disrespect and best avoided.

Russian men do not live long and alcohol remains a major factor, especially among the poor.

Every summer dozens of drunks are fished from rivers and lakes. Every winter, they are found frozen in snowdrifts.

And in many villages, drunkenness is a way of life. Homemade vodka - or Samogon - is frequently used instead of cash.

It's made at up to 80% proof and tested with a match.

By Paul Rocks
In Puerto Banus, Spain

It only takes a Sunday afternoon to see the different attitude the Spanish have to alcohol in comparison to the British.

I was invited to Sunday lunch with Spanish friends to a village restaurant last week and in typical fashion, there was alcohol involved.

But there was no throwing it down your neck to make room for the next drink.

We started off with the wine as the food began to arrive.

Even the younger teenagers were given a small glass to sip on, although their parents kept a watchful eye.

Civilised approach

As the meal finished, the local brandy was ordered and the conversation really started.

But this was a slow affair with the flow of alcohol tempered by the snacks that kept arriving at the table throughout the afternoon.

There was plenty to drink but no-one was falling over.

It was simply off home afterwards for a Sunday afternoon nap. Later in the evening, I took a stroll along the marina at Puerto Banus and found a very different atmosphere among young British drinkers.

At one of the main seafront bars, there were two hen parties and a stag party putting the final touches to their weekend - a regular occasion here.

It was obvious they had either been drinking all day or else topping up from the night before. They were in bad shape.

These elegantly dressed ladies were doing the rounds of shots when clearly a glass of water would have been better.

The locals looked on with a sense of bemusement - because the Spanish do not like to rush anything, including a drink.

By Caroline Wyatt
BBC correspondent in Lyon, France

Unlike some in Britain, the French tend to drink for the pleasure and the taste, rather than with the express intention of getting drunk.

Wine is generally an accompaniment to a meal, perhaps after an aperitif, chosen carefully to match the food, not simply gulped down rapidly at a bar.

In the evenings, meals at cafes and restaurants also tend to be a family affair.

It is not uncommon to see young children being given a sip of wine to introduce them to the flavour, and learn how to enjoy the taste. So children in France grow up with wine as a normal part of life.

Where I live, in the Marais, an area of Paris crammed with restaurants and bars, Friday and Saturday nights are a little noisier and busier than weeknights.

And yet there is little sense of anyone drinking purely to get drunk.

The idea of a group of young women going out for the evening with the sole intention of ending up plastered unglamourously on the pavement is virtually unheard of in Paris.

One reason for that is perhaps a more closely-knit family structure with young adults tending to live and eat at home.

Equally, the French tend to socialise less with colleagues after work in the evening - preferring to eat with their family and friends.

Gastronomic delight

"Good food and good wine are a natural part of our lives here in France, " said top French Chef Paul Bocuse.

And, perhaps, this is part of the explanation.

French friends they say binge drinking is a rarity here, even at university. Beer is served in smaller measures, and losing control is not generally seen as "cool" behaviour for young people, especially not for women.

Although the French drink more per head of population per year than the British, alcohol is treated as part of a wider gastronomic culture - there to be enjoyed and savoured, rather than abused.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2003/09/19 15:57:43 GMT

Saturday, September 20th, 2003, 01:12 AM
Q&A: The costs of alcohol

A government report suggests that the cost of alcohol abuse to the UK economy may be 20 billion a year. It suggests that binge drinking may be partly to blame for the billions spent by the NHS helping people with alcohol-related illness or injury.

BBC News Online looks at the problem of binge drinking and the solutions suggested by the Cabinet Office report.

What is binge drinking?

Officially, binge drinking is any drinking session which involves the consumption of at least eight units of alcohol, if you are a man, or six, if you are a woman.

Eight units works out roughly equivalent to four pints of normal strength beer, eight units of spirits, or eight small glasses of wine.

It is a fairly arbitrary measure - double the average daily recommended intake of alcohol.

The weekly alcohol limit is 21 units for men, and 14 for women.

But even if you drink far less than this a week, doctors say exceeding the "binge drinking" limit could be bad for your health.

It is a growing issue - drinkers under the age of 16 are drinking on average twice as much today as they did a decade ago.

And in adults, two in five drinking "occasions" for men, and one in five for women, involve drinking in excess of the binge drinking limits.

Why is binge drinking hazardous?

Drinking significant volumes of alcohol in a single session is primarily dangerous because it leads to a greatly increased risk of injury.

This may be an accident, such as simply falling over under the influence of drink, being involved as a pedestrian in a traffic accident, or getting injured as the result of a fight.

However, there is growing evidence that drinking large numbers of alcohol units over a relatively short period is likely to be far worse for your general health than spreading the same alcohol over a whole week, even though consumption is the same.

Alcohol is a poison, and it may be that having high concentrations of it in the body over relatively short periods is worse for you that having lesser levels of it in your system more often.

Repeated instances of binge drinking have been linked to strokes, kidney damage, memory loss and an increased breast cancer risk in women.

I'm a binge drinker: Does that make me an alcoholic?

Not necessarily. There is a big difference between someone who binges on occasion and someone who is dependent on alcohol.

The difference is how you view alcohol. The danger of alcohol dependency should be considered if the very idea of going without a drink fills you with a sense of dread.

While binge drinking may be a habit for many young people in the UK, the vast majority of those people could go a couple of days without a drink if necessary.

Put yourself in a position where you would normally want a drink - and see what happens when you deny yourself.

For instance, go out for the evening and stick to soft drinks.

If you can still enjoy yourself, then there is nothing to worry about, but it you feel tense or distressed then you may have a problem.

What is this drink culture costing our society?

The combined costs of alcohol-related crime and disorder, health problems, lost productivity and domestic break-up have been estimated as approaching 20 billion a year.

There are an estimated 1.2 million incidents of alcohol-related violence, and 85,000 incidents of drink-driving a year.

Drink accounts for one in 26 NHS "bed-days", and up to 17 million working days are lost annually through alcohol abuse.

What is the government doing about binge drinking?

Friday's report is really a "warm-up" for the wider government alcohol strategy which is likely to be published by the end of the year.

Ministers would like us to be more like our continental neighbours - who might drink as much alcohol as us in many cases - but spread it out over the whole week rather than in a single session.

Much of this difference is put down to the more laid-back atmosphere associated with drinking - often accompanying a meal, or at least taken sitting down at a table rather than standing up in a pub.

It is likely to be difficult to change the ingrained UK drinking culture overnight.

There is also concern over drinks promotions and "happy hours" which encourage the swift drinking of often very potent alcoholic drinks.

The whole UK licensing system is under review - its critics say that the 11pm "kicking out time" forces drinkers to cram their evening intake into a far shorter period than they would like, and encourages both men and women to drink quickly against the clock.

So, what is a sensible amount to drink?

Men should not consistently drink more than four units of alcohol a day. For women the sensible limit is three units a day.

Monday, September 22nd, 2003, 02:16 PM
Britain Leads Europe in Binge Drinking

Fri Sep 19, 1:17 PM ET

LONDON (Reuters) - Britons are the worst binge drinkers in Europe and women are catching up with men in the heavy drinking stakes, the government said Friday, urging a "more civilized" late-night culture.

A report by Downing Street's strategy unit found that while Britons drink less than most of their continental neighbors, they drink more intensively.

"In the UK, binge drinking accounts for 40 percent of all drinking occasions by men and 22 percent by women," the unit said in a report designed to help form government policy on alcohol abuse.

That put Britain in the lead in the binge stakes, ahead of Sweden and Denmark, and way ahead of Germany, Italy and France, where binge drinking accounted for less than 15 percent of all consumption.

The strategy unit acknowledged binge drinking was difficult to define but said that for the purposes of its report it meant drinking more than twice the government's daily guidelines.

Those guidelines are three to four units of alcohol a day for men and two to three units for women. A unit is defined as half a pint of medium strength beer, a small glass of wine or a measure of spirits.

The report also warned that while most Europeans are drinking less than they used to, Britons are drinking more.

"If present trends continue, the UK would rise to near the top of the consumption league within the next 10 years," it said, adding that British children under 16 are drinking twice as much as they did 10 years ago.

Women are also drinking more.

"The number of women drinking above recommended guidelines has risen by over half in the last 15 years," it said.

One in four women exceeds the government's guidelines, compared with just one in 10 in 1988.

The British alcoholic drinks industry is worth $48 billion a year, seven billion of which finds its way to the Treasury.

The BBC said the study showed that Britain loses 17 million working days per year to hangovers and drink-related illness, faces 1.2 million incidents of alcohol-related violence a year, that up to 1.3 million of its children are affected by parents with drinking problems and that alcohol-related problems are responsible for 22,000 premature deaths each year.

Monday, September 22nd, 2003, 03:34 PM
Thats true about Russians, its a disaster especially in small villages. If we were not drinking that much the situation here would be much better. The only good thing is that this tradition is changing slowly, recent polls show that beer is becoming more popular than vodka.