Understanding complex regional and cross-cultural determinants

Traditionally, most European cultures consider wine a refined choice, a view which is consistent with moderate consumption. While wine consumption in the EU has fallen considerably over the past 20 years, there has been a gradual increase in the misuse of alcoholic beverages among young people, particularly in the form of "binge drinking". This trend highlights the importance of analysing drinking patterns and the need to promote responsibility and moderation when consuming alcoholic beverages.

The European Comparative Alcohol Study (ECAS) compared the alcohol consumption and drinking patterns in 14 European countries and found considerable differences. While the European Mediterranean region accounts for the highest alcohol consumption per capita, drinking patterns that pose fewer health risks can be observed there: for example, alcoholic beverages are primarily consumed at home with meals, not in bars/restaurants and not without food. Considerable national variations with regards to “binge drinking” exist as well. For example, 34% of Irish respondents said they usually binge drink, compared to only 2% of respondents in wine-producing Italy and in fact, harmful drinking patterns are considerably less common in predominantly wine producing countries, where wine is consumed more regularly, almost exclusively with meals and the volume of alcohol consumed at each drinking session tends to be much lower than in the Nordic countries, the UK and Ireland, which have the highest levels of binge drinking.

Furthermore, enormous cross-cultural variations in the way Europeans behave when they drink exist. In some societies, alcohol misuse is often associated with violent or anti-social behaviour, while in others drinking behaviour is generally harmonious. These differences are partly related to inconsistent cultural beliefs about alcoholic beverages, expectancies regarding the effects of alcohol and social norms regarding drunkenness (ECAS final report, 2002).

It is well documented in the ECAS 2 study that the traditional method of only considering the per capital alcohol consumption within a country's population and neglecting drinking patterns is not necessarily the decisive factor for alcohol related harm. A better understanding of individual drinking patterns, particularly among young people, is required in order to be able to suggest solutions that could minimise alcohol-related harm. Evidence-based research which examines drinking patterns as well as the motivation to drink alcohol can contribute successfully to curbing alcohol abuse and misuse. Measures including education and information are essential to encourage individual responsibility and informed choices.

The wine sector recognises the need to collaborate with authorities and stakeholders to strengthen existing projects in EU member states to tackle harmful drinking. It will do this by promoting the use of ‘best practices' that will implement long-term, sustainable initiatives that highlight the harmful consequences of irresponsible drinking. Reducing alcohol-related harm should concern all stakeholders, and the most effective approach involves partnerships between stakeholders not only at the national level but also at the regional and often more importantly at the local/community level.

For full details visit www.wineinformationcouncil.eu

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