Italian kids who drink with meals are less likely to grow up as binge-drinkers

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Kids who get wine with meals are less likely to binge as adults than their neighbors who don’t drink with the family, a new study in the journal Addiction, Research and Theory suggests. American researchers interviewed 80 Italian adolescents aged 16-18 and 80 Italian young adults aged 25-30, all from the wine-producing regions of Abruzzo and Umbria. Those who consumed alcohol with meals when growing up were less likely ever to drink five or more drinks at a time, and less likely to get drunk. If they did become heavy drinkers in adulthood, they tended to be older when they first began their heavy drinking.

People have wondered for decades why it is that some cultures — like the French and Italians — seem to encourage responsible drinking from the cradle to the grave, with drinking common among youth but without high rates of heavy drinking among adults. Other cultures, like the Irish or the Russians, get a reputation as real binge drinkers.

Moscow has even announced a new ban, effective Sept 1, on all overnight sales of hard liquor within the city — part of Russian President Dmitri Medvedev’s continued war on alcoholism. Alcohol remains a massive public-health problem in that country, responsible for about half of all premature deaths among Russian adults. The ban won’t stop people from buying beer or wine at midnight, but from 10 p.m. to 10 a.m., Muscovites won’t be able to buy vodka anymore.

Why is it, then, that Italian kids sip on wine with mom and dad while Russians are stuck trying to manage 2 a.m. vodka sales? The culture of drinking, it seems, come down to precisely that — culture. Italian youths who drink at home grow up more likely to think of alcohol as a normal part of family life, the authors behind the new study suggest, associating wine with intergenerational socializing and not just with wild revelry. They write:

Youths in these cultures learn to drink more responsibly than their U.S. counterparts because drinking is culturally normative, exposure occurs at a younger age, and alcohol is part of the fabric of family mores.