Public Release: 

Culture greatly shapes young people's drinking habits

ICAP study pioneers new concept of 'extreme drinking,' offering insight into complex global drinking patterns among young people

International Center for Alcohol Policies

WASHINGTON, DC, 23 September 2008 - Whether young people get drunk as a purposeful behavior or as an unintended consequence depends on what country they live in, according to new research on young people in seven countries. The research finds that young people's views on alcohol and drunkenness were influenced more by culture than by factors such as age and sex.

The research, sponsored by the International Center for Alcohol Policies (ICAP), also finds striking similarities about drinking among young people in different parts of the world including:

  • Their introduction to alcohol was typically by parents during a family celebration;
  • Alcohol consumption was primarily associated with enjoyment and socializing;
  • Drinking mostly took place at gatherings (parties, sporting events) and in public venues (bars, clubs);
  • A "successful drinking experience involved socializing and avoided problems;
  • An awareness of drinking as a means of self-medication.

Data from the focus groups are included in a new book, "Swimming with Crocodiles: The Culture of Extreme Drinking." The focus groups were conducted in Brazil, China, Italy, Nigeria, Russia, South Africa, and United Kingdom.

"Tragically, too many young people purposefully pursue drunkenness as a form of 'calculated hedonism' bounded by the structural and cultural factors that affect young people in different countries," says Fiona Measham, PhD, co-editor of the book and criminologist at Lancaster University.

"We need to work to change this culture of extreme drinking," says Marjana Martinic, PhD, co-editor and vice president for public health at ICAP. "We need to look at cultures in countries like Italy and Spain where moderate drinking is an ordinary, every-day part of family life."

Research on young people's drinking shows that rates of drunkenness and extreme drinking are significantly lower in the Mediterranean countries than in Northern European countries. For example, 49 percent of Swedish 17-year-olds report having been drunk, compared with around 10 percent of Italian, French, and Greek youth.

"Changing the culture of extreme drinking requires looking beyond traditional responses and getting all relevant stakeholders involved," concludes Dr. Martinic. "This means governments, the public health community, the beverage alcohol industry, the criminal justice system, and civil society must have a role in reducing extreme drinking among young people."

Dr. Martinic says there are a wide range of interventions to help reduce extreme drinking among young people, particularly interventions at three key settings: school, work, and community.


A Synopsis of the book "Swimming with Crocodiles: The Culture of Extreme Drinking" (in English, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish), Chapter 1 (introduction of new term, "extreme drinking" to better define the pattern of heavy and rapid alcohol intake among some young people), and Chapter 5 (case studies/focus group results) are available at:

Swimming with Crocodiles: The Culture of Extreme Drinking was commissioned by the International Center for Alcohol Policies (ICAP) and is the ninth volume in the ICAP Book Series on Alcohol in Society. ICAP is a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to promote the understanding of the role of alcohol in society through dialogue and partnerships involving the beverage alcohol industry, the public health community and others interested in alcohol policy, and to help reduce the abuse of alcohol worldwide. ICAP is supported by major international producers of beverage alcohol. The views expressed in this book are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent those of ICAP or of its sponsoring companies.

Disclaimer: AAAS and EurekAlert! are not responsible for the accuracy of news releases posted to EurekAlert! by contributing institutions or for the use of any information through the EurekAlert system.