Thursday, March 15

Going Into the Drink

Often people argue that we should be more like Europe when it comes to our attitudes toward alcohol. The article below should be required reading to offer the counterpoint to that common wisdom.

The issues of alcohol abuse are complex but, in a college town like Iowa City, very observable. I contend that communities must decide how to find a balance between the real public health issues surrounding alcohol abuse and the equally real economics that limit political action. Given that there is likely to be a referendum about whether Iowa City should have a 21-Ordinance (which is not likely to solve the problems associated with underage drinking in isolation, in my opinion), I think time is running out for cooler heads to prevail.

From Spiegel

Nobody drinks more than the Europeans. The Irish, Brits and Finnish in particular like to get plastered in excessive boozing marathons. A new EU study has found worrying continental drinking habits and warns of the consequences beyond the next morning's hangover.

Europeans from Cyprus to Ireland indulge in a rather intoxicating continental pastime: drinking. The champions of excessive or binge drinking are the Irish, Brits, Finns and Danes, according to a European Union survey on alcohol consumption released on Wednesday.

The study -- which polled 28,584 people between last October and November -- found that for young people in particular, the odd drink is not enough to satisfy their thirst: almost one in five between the ages of 15 and 24 consumes five or more beverages in one session, defined as the benchmark for binge drinking. (The 2005 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates there are 11 million underage drinkers in the United States. Nearly 7.2 million are considered binge drinkers. Iowans as a whole are #4 in the US in binge drinking with 18.9% of adults having five or more drinks on one occasion.)

Binge champions are the Irish with 34 percent, followed by the Finnish, British and Danish with 27, 24 and 23 percent respectively. Italians and Greeks, on the other hand, tend to stay relatively sober: only 2 percent of those asked reported excessive alcohol consumption.

The study also emphasized that heavy drinking has more consequences than just a hangover the next morning: 195,000 Europeans die annually of alcohol abuse, and every fourth death among young men aged 15-29 is related to drinking. Alcohol also plays a role in 8-10 percent of illnesses and injuries of European citizens. In Britain, half of all violent crime is alcohol related, according to the government.

The survey found that about three-quarters of those questioned would agree on a clamp down on how alcohol is sold (77 percent), support the banning of alcohol advertisements (76 percent) and are in favor of lowering blood alcohol level limits for young and novice drivers (73 percent). Eighty percent said they would support random police alcohol tests for drivers.

The European Commission said that about 55 million adults -- 10 percent of Europe's population (Iowa, which is #15 in the US compares at 5.5%)-- drink at harmful levels. This makes the continent the heaviest drinking region in the world, with the average adult consuming the equivalent of 11 liters (23.25 pints) of pure alcohol per year. (In comparison, Johnson County residents drank approximately 2.8 gallons per person in 2006--#4 highest county consumption in Iowa)

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