Pressures mount as binge-drinking hits Italy

Sun Sep 27, 2009 9:39pm EDT
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By Danilo Masoni

MILAN (Reuters) - Gone midnight on the last Saturday in summer and the young people in the square drinking cocktails and beer slur as they chant: "Happy birthday, son of a b---h..."

An unremarkable sight in northern European countries like Britain, it's becoming familiar in Milan as an Italian tradition of touching wine only at meals caves in to the power of binge-drinking.

In a country where proverbially "wine makes good blood" -- a popular belief that moderate alcohol intake makes people good-humored and can be healthy -- the authorities are grappling with a youth drinks culture modeled on the heavy-drinking north.

"We have not yet reached levels seen in the UK but in five years we'll be there. We are not that far off," Dr. Luca Bernardo, an expert in adolescent health at Milan's Fatebenefratelli hospital, told Reuters.

His hospital is in an area surrounded by bars and he said at least every two weeks its emergency room has to treat a young patient who is in an alcoholic coma or severely intoxicated.

It's no surprise to see children as young as 11 to 13 in the emergency room, Bernardo said.

Alcohol advertising, new products such as alcopops aimed at a younger public, boredom and psychological problems can spur youth drinking, doctors say.

In the Milan square near the San Lorenzo Columns, two hoardings overlook the scene: one is for Absolut vodka, the other for Nastro Azzurro beer.   Continued...

<p>Young Italians drink beer in downtown Milan August 20, 2009. REUTERS/Paolo Bona</p>