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Binge drinking – the Maltese way

Maltese boozers start younger but handle their drink better, an international study finds. And while the law has often been amended to address issues such as underage drinking, enforcement has to date been scant. James Debono analyses our alcohol culture through statistics

Maltese teenagers are more likely to binge than their peers in the United Kingdom, even if they are less likely to get drunk.

And when it comes to binge drinking, 15- to 16-year-old Maltese teens ranked third among 35 European nations, according to an ESPAD (The European School Survey Project on Alcohol & Other Drugs) study in 2007.

In fact 57% of 16-year-olds admitted drinking more than five drinks at one time in the previous month.

However, similarly to Estonia and Latvia, while reporting heavy episodic drinking during the past 30 days, Maltese youths ranked low on the ranking list for drunkenness for the same period.

Another study in 2003 showed that Malta ranked fifth in the number of 16-year-old students who reported bingeing three times or more during the previous 30 days.

The 2007 study showed that the absolute majority (87%) of 15- to 16-year-old students in Malta had consumed alcohol during the past 12 months, which is slightly above the ESPAD mean.

Of these only 38% reported being drunk at least once in their lives, just under the ESPAD mean of 39%.

The survey also shows that while 56% of Maltese boys consumed an alcohol on more than three occasions in the previous 30 days, only 47% of girls did likewise.

Wine drinking in the past 30 days was reported by 60% of students from Malta: the highest in the survey. As regards use of spirits in the past month, the rate was around 60% in Austria, Denmark and Malta, but only around 20% in Armenia, Russia and Ukraine.

Booze culture

A MaltaToday survey conducted in February 2006 showed that 53% of those aged between 18 to 24 had their first drink before 16, and 30% of them had their first drink at home.

While 87.5% believe that the drinking age should be 18 or more, 53% of all respondents had their first alcoholic drink before they were 18 years of age.

Although underage drinking prevails in the younger generations, the age group with the largest number of respondents who have had their first drink before adolescence is the oldest one. Among those aged over 65, 10% have had their first drink before 12 years.
It is also interesting that the greatest number of respondents have had their first encounter with alcohol during a family dinner at home.

Apart from their own home, respondents mentioned entertainment establishments, village bars, village feasts and weddings as the place where they have consumed their first alcoholic drink.

While younger respondents are more likely to have consumed their first drink in a club or disco, older respondents are more likely to have consumed their first drink at a wedding.

A considerable seven per cent of respondents have had their first drink during the village feast.

Poor enforcement

Information presented in parliament since alcohol consumption became illegal for under 16s shows that enforcement has been sporadic.

Only nine minors aged under 16 were apprehended consuming alcohol in 2007. Between January and July 2008, 11 youths were caught.

Another parliamentary question revealed that nobody was ever taken to court for selling alcohol to minors in Gozo in 2008.

source: Malta Today

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