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Binge Drinking Across the Channel

Thursday, December 18th, 2008 Binge Drinking Across the Channel

There is no argument when viewing the British binge-drinking culture. However, it has now spread across the English Channel to the young French population.

According to David Chazan of the BBC (17 12 08) who reports, “Until a few years ago, many French people were convinced that their cafe society and laissez-faire approach to alcohol made them immune to binge drinking.”

Sadly, times have very much changed and so have the drinking habits of the youth of France.

Moreover, the French government have been quick on the button and there are plans to raise the legal age for buying alcohol from 16 to 18 next year.

Indeed, “dry areas” in some parts of Paris already exist, drinking is completely banned on the streets.

Arguably, these measures mark a major shift in a society which used to take pride in initiating children into the art of sipping wine with their parents from an early age.

Opinion leant towards this approach and it was considered that this bred a moderate, mature attitude to alcohol.

A glass or two of wine at home over dinner, it used to be thought, protected the French from the need to indulge in a British-style Saturday night booze-up at the pub.

According to Patrick Bloche, mayor of the 11th Arrondissement, or district, of Paris, argues, “”Our societies resemble each other more and more, and binge drinking, especially at weekends, has developed in recent years in France,”

Such is the problem Mr Bloche has just initiated an extension of the “dry area” in his district.

Notwithstanding, the Health Ministry have reported that the number of children under 15 admitted to hospital for drunkenness has increased by 50% in the past four years.

The number of people under 24 treated in hospital in connection with alcohol rose by the same percentage.

Dr Philippe Nuss, of St Antoine hospital in Paris, who treats people with alcohol-related problems says, one factor in the growth of binge drinking is that teenagers are now starting to drink at a younger age.

He further adds, “They start drinking earlier because the family is less cohesive,” he says.

“They used to be more strictly controlled by their parents but now they tend to go out and start drinking in groups from the age of about 13 to 16.”

In France, 16- and 17-year-olds are now allowed to buy alcohol of any kind in shops, and they can order wine and beer, but not spirits, in cafes and restaurants.

The government has proposed to raise the legal age for all alcohol to 18, but some doubt whether this, or the introduction of dry areas, will be effective.

A 28 year old graduate student Pierre, started drinking at 16 and believes the new French approach is flawed. He argues, If you ban drinking in one area, they’ll just go somewhere else,” he says. “Even if you raise the legal age limit, teenagers will still find a way.”

Pierre says adolescents need to be more aware of the dangers of alcohol, and they need to keep busy.

“When I was 16, every weekend I was drunk with my friends because we didn’t have so many things to do and so it was funny to drink,” he told me.

Pierre says many French teenagers prefer hard liquor or beer because they associate wine with their parents’ generation.

“I never thought it would be a real problem,” says Pierre of his own drinking. “But now, I always need to drink, and that is a problem.”

The French governments tough approach has met with opposition.

Wine-makers in Bordeaux have organised demonstrations to protest against what they see as a threat to their livelihoods at a time when the industry is struggling.

Binge drinking continues to spread in France but the consumption of wine per capita has fallen substantially over the last few decades.

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