European Norms on Alcohol Are Not the Answer

How often do we hear “In Europe kids start drinking at an early age and they don’t have the problems with alcohol abuse that we have?” WRONG. This is one of the major misconceptions that Americans have regarding underage alcohol consumption.

Authorities in Europe are concerned that alcohol use by young people is becoming increasingly harmful. More than 55,000 people aged 15-29 across Europe die each year as a result of alcohol-related road accidents, poisoning, suicide and murders, according to the World Health Organization.

Of particular concern in Europe, like the USA, is the increase in binge drinking. In the past, drinking by youth tended to follow overall patterns in particular countries. For example, in Northern European countries where the overall percentage of drinkers is lower than in the south, drinking was less frequent among young people, but drinking to intoxication was more common. On the other hand, in Southern Europe, a greater percentage of adults and youth drank but tended not to drink to intoxication. While this pattern still holds, the trend toward binge drinking and intoxication is even being seen in Southern European countries where the cultures have historically frowned on drinking in that way.

A variety of policy measures are being introduced across Europe to deal with this trend, like increasing alcohol taxes, raising the legal purchase age, regulating the marketing of alcoholic beverages and regulating drinking establishments away from environments that encourage violence. In France, Austria, and Belgium there is a TV ban on alcohol advertising. In Italy, there’s no alcohol advertising on TV between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. Scotland is looking to impose minimum prices on alcohol. Germany, Russia and Ireland have all had to change their policies regarding alcohol.

The romantic notion of French or Italian children sitting down with their families over a bottle of wine at dinner has been replaced by the harsh reality  of high alcohol induced death rates, high alcohol related in-patient diagnoses, binge drinking and violence. The facts tell us that European norms and policies regarding alcohol have resulted in equal, if not greater problems than we have in this country.

Alcohol remains the most heavily abused substance by America’s youth, according to Talbot Partnership for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention. The problem is not that we are too lax with our regulations as many would say pointing to Europe, but rather that we need to tighten regulations and enforcement.