A common lament among 18-year-olds is “I am old enough to die for my country. I am old enough to own a home. Why am I not old enough to drink alcohol?” They point to Europe, where people begin drinking in adolescence and exclaim, “Europeans don’t have a problem with alcohol because they’re exposed to it at a young age.” Despite this optimistic impression, teenage drinking in Europe is neither moderate nor harmless.
Health concerns compared to drinking ages
The World Health Organization (WHO) publishes statistics on everything. One of its publications, “Global Information System on Alcohol and Health (GISAH)” tracks global death rates from cirrhosis among people 15 and older. In the U.S., the rate is 14.9 per 100,000 for males; 7.1 per females. In France, the rate is 16.4 for males, 5.2 for females. In Germany, it’s 18.8 for males, 7.8 for females. These statistics make a compelling argument in favor of a higher legal drinking age.
This hypothesis does not pan out across the globe, however. Like the U.S., the legal drinking age in Chili, Egypt, Honduras and Russia is 21, but death rates due to cirrhosis in these countries explode the idea that a higher drinking age prolongs lives. In Chili, the rate is 31.2 for males, 9.0 for females. In Honduras, it’s 26.3 and 14.7, respectively. Deaths due to liver cirrhosis in Russia are high (48.7 for males, 26.1 for females), but nowhere close to Egypt, at 122.1 for men and 67.8 for women. So higher drinking ages do not seem to protect citizens by themselves.
Difference in binge drinking habits
American youths may have drinking envy with respect to their European counterparts, but when it comes to binge drinking, the Old Country holds no bragging rights over the New World. “Binge Drinking in Europe” is a European Union (EU) report. In the summary, the authors report that in 2006, 80 million Europeans aged 15 and older reported consuming five or more drinks on a single occasion at least one week. The authors note that one-third of Europeans 15 and older admitted that consuming multiple drinks in one sitting is typical drinking behavior.
Conversely, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes binge drinking is more prevalent among older Americans. Respondents 65 and older reported binge drinking five to six times a month. Over 70 percent of binge drinking behavior involves individuals 26 and older. These numbers are fairly remarkable, given that individuals 21 and younger consume 90 percent of their alcohol from binge drinking. Considering over half of all the alcohol consumed by adults in the U.S. comes via binge drinking, the fact younger people ape their elders in this respect is not surprising.
Apples and oranges
Comparing drinking behaviors in different cultures is a mug’s game. Attitudes, beliefs, opinions vary from country to country. But as the EU report shows, binge drinking easily crosses boundaries. Excessive alcohol consumption in any country and at any age is a problem.
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About the author:
Darren Fraser is a content writer, worked two and half years as reporter and researcher for The Yomiuri Shimbun until they realized he did not read, speak or write Japanese and fired him. Undeterred, he channels his love of research into unearthing stories that provide hope to those dealing with addiction and mental illness. Darren loves the Montreal Canadiens hockey club and horror films and would prefer to enjoy these from the comforts of his family’s farm in Quebec.