Can UK Binge Drinking be Replaced by Mediterranean Moderation?

binge drinking customs OECD REPORT

A glass of wine with lunch is the norm but it is not followed by the bottle! Image:Shutterstock/telesniuk

AS the world dissects the latest findings from the recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation (OECD) which highlighted binge drinking trends around the world, I wonder will Mediterranean moderation ever become a trend.

According to the recent report by the OECD, the UK has the highest percentage of female binge drinkers among the 33 countries surveyed. The report states that around 26 per cent of women in the UK have at least six alcoholic drinks in a single session at least once a month. Surprisingly, Denmark matched the UK at 26 per cent followed by Luxemburg at 24 per cent and Germany at 22 per cent.

When the sexes were combined 35 per cent of UK adults binge drink at least once a month. Only Romania and Denmark recorded a higher percentage.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have the Mediterranean countries Spain, Italy, and Greece all below ten per cent.  Accompanied by Turkey where only 3 per cent of adults binge drink.

Mediterranean All Day Drinking

Whilst many might be shocked to see Spanish people having a beer with their breakfast, a morning shot of herb liquor, or a five-finger pour of brandy after dinner, it soon becomes apparent that the attitude to alcohol along the Mediterranean is very different. A glass of wine with lunch is the norm but it is not followed by the bottle. Alcohol is savoured and enjoyed not downed with drunken oblivion as the objective.

Why is Binge Drinking so Prevalent?

There are many reasons why people binge on alcohol, according to an article by MedicalNewsToday dopamine is the main reason.  The feel-good chemical is released into the brain when alcohol is consumed. According to this article, ‘It is also a substance that tells us to prolong the pleasure and to continue to ‘chase the high.’’ This explains why it is difficult to just have one drink.

So why can some people have one drink and others are having one for the road all night long?

People often use binge drinking as a way to self-medicate anxiety, depression, and stress. Some use it as a solution for boredom or loneliness. Alcohol is also used to lower inhibitions and feel more relaxed, especially in social situations. It can help you to feel confident talking, flirting, and interacting with strangers.

Peer pressure can also factor in whether by a group of friends convincing you to have shots or just one more beer or the need to fit in or impress someone.

Image: Shutterstock/Ukki Studio

Northern Europe vs Southern Europe

Why is binge drinking so prevalent in countries like the UK and Denmark but not in Spain or Italy? There are huge cultural differences and of course, we repeat what our parents and peers do. Many children in the 80s and 90s in the UK and Ireland spent their weekends in the pub. It is only normal that this generation would then feel at home in these surroundings and repeat the process.

On the Mediterranean families spend the weekends on the beach or at the pool. Even in the winter, the climate allows life to be lived outdoors, hiking, taking long walks, playing sports, etc..

Rain, Hail, or Shine.

In a study carried out by the University of Pittsburgh, there is a link between average temperature, hours of sunlight, and alcohol consumption. As expected the associate director of the Pittsburgh Liver Research Centre said ‘This is the first study that systematically demonstrates that worldwide in colder areas and areas with less sun, you have more drinking and more alcoholic cirrhosis.’

They researched data from 193 countries and found that as temperature and sunlight hours drop, alcohol consumption increases. They stated that ‘alcohol is a vasodilator, which means that it boosts the flow of warm blood to the skin, increasing feelings of warmth.’ Higher alcohol is linked with depression which tends to be more common in the winter when there are fewer hours of daylight.

A Change in Trends

In recent years the Spanish Government has noticed an increase in alcohol consumption in the younger population in Spain. suggests this change in pattern is due to the company they keep and the venues they attend, the pattern is still being analysed although the percentage is still very low by comparison to the UK and Denmark.

As the world becomes more connected and we consume more and more information every day is there a chance that binge drinking will be phased out? As we become more aware of what we are putting into our bodies whether it be ultra-processed food, alcohol, or even microplastics, will we get to a stage where we shun alcohol? Can we learn to be social without rum and Coca-Cola?

Recent studies also show that overall alcohol consumption among Gen Z is on the decline. Gen Z drinks 20 per cent less alcohol per capita than millennials. This shift is driven by an awareness of the risks associated with alcohol.

So what camp are you in binge drinker or Mediterranean moderation? For those who have moved to a Mediterranean country have you noticed a shift in your attitude to alcohol? Let us know in the comments.

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Written by

Catherine McGeer

I am an Irish writer who has been living in Spain for the past twenty years. My writing centers around the Costa Cálida. As a mother I also write about family life on the coast of Spain and every now and then I try to break down the world of Spanish politics!


    • Bernie

      08 November 2023 • 19:15

      Yes definitely drink less alcohol since moving to Spain.

    • Joseph

      09 November 2023 • 18:15

      I may not drink less,but I tend to have a couple a day rather than 10 each day over the weekend…

    • Pete Robinson

      09 November 2023 • 20:21

      I spend around six months in Spain per year . The casual approach to alcohol is relaxing and no pressure to drink too much plus eating whilst having a drink is acceptable In the UK the when in the pub the usual pressure is go on have a nother one plus no tapas or nibbles
      The Spanish way is the be#tb

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