United States Italy
Drank any alcohol during the past year 67% 84%
Drink alcohol almost every day 6% 50%
Liters of pure alcohol per person per year 8.82 7.56
Men 10.7% 1.3%
Women 4.2% 0.8%
Binge drinking in past month 16.9% 4.2%
Yearly deaths from alcohol per 100,000 2.91 0.37
What’s Their Secret?
By tradition Italians consider wine and beer to be foods, not drugs, knocked back to enhance a meal rather than to get soused. When I was first getting invited to dinner in Italian homes, in 1970, the children would be served acquavino, water laced with a few drops of wine. I’m convinced this non-medical homeopathy innoculated them against later dipsomania. Those old habits have by and large held up nicely, but very recently some young Italians have started to imitate the tourists in their midst by converting to the northern European cult of Saturday night drunkenness. Let’s hope it’s just a fad.
As with many American phenomena that favor the all-or-nothing (think Tesla vs. SUV), the United States is overloaded with problem drinkers on the one hand and teetotalers on the other. I sip my way through two glasses of wine every evening with supper, more alcohol than 95% of American women.
Alcoholic beverages are sold in every Rome supermarket and at every corner store, at all hours. The exception is before a soccer match if the Rome or Lazio team is playing against an adversary with notoriously hard-drinking fans, such as Manchester United, in which case City Hall has been known to institute temporary bans in the attempt to keep hordes of drunken Englishmen from taking over the streets.
(Curiously, a horde of drunken Italians is something of a contradiction in terms. Liquored up Romans get cheerful and friendly, not raucous and rowdy. Turns out the way people act when they’ve been imbibing is due at least as much to cultural expectation as to the pharmacological effect of alcohol.)
You’re supposed to be 18 to buy, but this being Italy nobody at the checkout counter is checking IDs. When American “abroad” college students catch on, they tend to go off the deep end and can land in deep trouble – since I’ve lived here a half dozen are known to have fallen to their deaths out of windows, from bridges, or off walls, and that’s not counting the cases that have been hushed up.
A small glass of wine every day throughout pregnancy doesn’t cause fetal alcohol syndrome or anthing else, by the way, contrary to the prohibitionist terror campaign in the United States. Every adult Italian you see on the street was exposed to it and survived.
*****Mobile phone readers: to subscribe, scroll way down.