Mediterranean countries are actually regarded as exemplary in their dealings with alcohol. For in the South of Europe one can observe that which science describes as “integrated” contact with alcohol. Here, the role of alcohol is virtually acknowledged as “an accepted, unobtrusive, moral and neutral component of everyday life.”
Mass alcoholism in Spain
Drinking for the sake of drinking is not done; rather alcohol is consumed firstly and foremost at meals. In fact, each year the Spanish, Portuguese and French consume more alcohol than any other Europeans. However, when they do, they drink little but often. Paralytic weekend alcoholism is confined to tourist resorts-just.
For in the meantime, changes to this “mature” contact with alcohol have become apparent. In Spain, this concerns all young people. “Comatose drunkenness” is a concept, which after being long associated with British and North European tourists, is now winning popularity with Spain’s youth. Young people take part in the macrobotellón in their hundreds of thousands, a mass booze-up which takes place in the streets. Lorenzo Navarette, sociologist and author of the book The botellón phenomenon, remarks that: “the macrobotellón is none other than the result of a situation which has long gotten out of control and can now no longer be contained.”
To make oneself publicly drunk, has until recently been considered shameful-meanwhile for the young Spaniards it is a symbol of pleasure. This is presumably also a reason why the Spanish government has recently banned drinking in public.
Similar changes concern France and Italy, where the “art of drinking” was arranged for the young by parents and close family.
Record holder Ireland
“Booze-fights”, “comatose-drinking” and “wager-drinking” are concepts most frequently highly associated with the British drink culture. Great Britain hopes to implement a move towards Mediterranean drinking habits thanks to its 24 hour drinking policy- a move which so far has been in vain.
Andrew McNeill of the Institute of Alcohol Studies considers it improbable that through "the import of Italian drinkng laws, the Italian drink culture will also be imported.
The Irish are by no means behind Britain in their drinking. The largest quantity of alcohol in Europe pro rata, per person and per sitting is consumed there- more than twelve litres of pure alcohol. The Irish government now plans to counteract this. It has banned the use of the "Happy Hour" offer and is charging a hefty tax for the purchase of alcohol to those who get particularly drunk on a regular basis.
Scandanavian countries take a stance on alcohol similar to that of the British and the Irish. The Scandinavians have abandoned nearly a decade of prohibition tax and strict traffic control because of their regular Schnapps excess, however these were compensated for by their copious weekend mugs of beer.
According to Robin Room at the centre of Social Research on Alcohol and Drugs at the University of Stockholm, there are "standards, which one must uphold when one is in a particular situation where one has to drink and these scarcely alter".
In the Netherlands another contrasting trend is apparent. For it is here that increasing alcohol consumption has also been noticed, but there are also positive developments which can be noted, such as the commonly practised Southern European implementation of teenagers drinking within the family circle. As this gives young people an opportunity to learn to have contact with alcohol in a protected environment, so the lure of the forbidden diminishes.
Contact with alcohol in most European countries is on a par with contact with another legal drug: tobacco. In the South of Europe the people maintain a relaxed attitude toward drinking and smoking. In Spain smoking has been prohibited in the workplace, in public forums and in shopping centres since the beginning of 2006. Bars and pubs remain unaffected, but they must provide a no-smoking area, if they occupy an area larger than 100 square metres.
Further North, the situation is already much worse for smokers. Ireland has recently issued the ban on smoking in the workplace, which has been sweeping the globe, following suit with it’s already implemented ban on smoking in pubs and restaurants. Smoking is also banned in pubs, restaurants and in the workplace across Sweden, Norway and Scotland.