Being expat

To drink or not to drink…

To be honest, I wanted to write about this topic for years, but always hesitated because I can’t find a  way to talk about “to drink or not to drink”… But when a friend linked to this article on facebook, I decided it is time to write about it.

Cultures where drinking is a no go, and others where it is part of a rite of passage into adulthood

I grew up in a country where people don’t need to drink alcohol to enjoying themselves and where being drunk is frowned upon (cfr. Italy). From a very early stage on I realized that this was one of the major differences between the local culture and our “home culture”. My parents are German and grew up in the post-war era. Every time we visited family and friends in Germany, I observed that it was considered normal to drink alcohol at gatherings. I don’t mean the usual glass of wine or two during a long meal, no, it’s the massive drinking the one where most of the people would end up drunk, where being drunk was one of the goals of the gathering… People would pressure each other to drink more, to find out who is the most trinkfest (hard-drinking).

In cultures where you have to drink in order to “belong” , it is perceived as a faux pas if you refuse a drink and is only accepted if the person is ill, pregnant or a child under 14. In Germany it was (or still is) part of the rite of passage into adulthood for confirmands. From that moment on, one is allowed by society (but not by law, see here below!), encouraged and expected to drink alcohol at social gatherings.


What is allowed in private settings is not legal…

Apparently German teenagers consume less alcohol nowadays, like stated in this article on Deutsche Welle Teenager trinken weniger Alkohol: “only every tenth teenager between 12 and 17 yo drank alcohol once per week in 2016, whereas in 2004 it were twice as many teenagers and in the 1970ies it was every forth teenager” (Jeder zehnte Jugendliche zwischen 12 und 17 Jahren trank 2016 einmal pro Woche Alkohol – im Vergleich zum Jahr 2004 ein deutlicher Rückgang. Damals konsumierten noch doppelt so viele Jugendliche einmal in der Woche Alkohol. Schaut man auf die 1970er-Jahre, war es nicht nur jeder fünfte, sondern sogar noch jeder vierte Teenager.) The quantity of alcohol consumption is not mentioned as the main objective was to point out it is already a regular habit for children of this age group. Also: teenagers tend to have their first drink at age 15 – “quite “late” compared  what happened in the past…”

A study from the OECD in 2015 stated that “85 % of the 15yo Germans has experienced alcohol compared to 25% in 2002″ and that the general alcohol consumption among youngsters is increasing – not decreasing! (cfr. 85 Prozent der 15-jährigen Deutschen haben schon Erfahrungen mit Alkohol gemacht – 25 Prozent mehr als noch 2002. Laut OECD nimmt auch in vielen anderen Ländern der Alkoholkonsum von Jugendlichen zu.)

Bildschirmfoto 2017-07-24 um 13.48.42Bildschirmfoto 2017-07-24 um 13.48.53Bildschirmfoto 2017-07-24 um 13.49.03Bildschirmfoto 2017-07-24 um 13.49.14Bildschirmfoto 2017-07-24 um 13.49.25

cfr. OECD data about alcohol consumption (in litres per capita) and other sources about alcohol consumption in 2017 


Binge drinking, Rauschtrinken or colloquially Komasaufen, is part of a drinking-culture that is hard to understand for someone who grew up in a country where drinking is not common.

What I find interesting (disturbing!) is that these studies consider alcohol consumption starting even before age 16 or the legal age for purchasing alcoholic beverages:

Legal age for purchasing alcoholic beverages


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When and why does it start?

I wonder why entire societies find it acceptable that children drink alcohol.

I think that more than reacting to the phenomenon itself, one should ask where and when this starts.

The country I grew up in is known for allowing young children to have a sip of wine when they’re really young. I have witnessed this a few times myself and have been offered “soltanto un goccino” as a child, “only a sip”, it’s like medicine… When asked why they would do that, they responded that it was more a joke – but still: what if a young child enjoys the regular “goccino”?

What about those young mothers or parents, who openly share their longing for their evening drink, because they “deserve it” because parenting is so stressful?

What about those parents who head to the pub every week and are unresponsive the next morning? What is the message they send to their children? That it is normal to get drunk once a week?

Is it ok for parents to drink in front of their children to “relax” or to “enjoy their free time”? Aren’t they modeling that “if you are stressed, upset, tired, drink a glass of wine/or other drink and you’ll be fine”, that it’s perfectly normal and ok to drink to relax and enjoy?

Cfr. About the effect of drinking alcohol in front of your children 

What would be a healthy way to approach this?

Many schools teach how to approach this in a healthy way. They explain the side effects and how our awareness is clouded by drinking too much, that it is difficult to recognize ones boundaries. “Being responsible is taught from an early age in school and at home. Pupils in our locality (in the last year of primary school) completed an awareness program on peer pressure, social behavior, drink and drugs awareness because research in an older group of students (i.e just started secondary school) showed the risk of alcohol use was rising”, said my friend in the facebook post, “raising this awareness in children doesn’t stop the use but is believed it can reduce the incidence abuse.”

I believe it is the responsibility of families, friends, to foster a healthy approach.

Is it possible to do without…?

I seriously had this discussion with some friends who didn’t believe that one can really enjoy each others company without alcohol.

Not only can I confirm this myself, as I only enjoy a glass of wine occasionally and always with a meal, but I have many friends who don’t drink any alcohol and they genuinely enjoy gatherings, get togethers (and surely don’t have an easier life than others!).
Teetotalers are abstinents from alcohol either because of their faith, religion or conviction.

Don’t get me wrong…

I don’t condemn adults drinking alcohol occasionally. What I worry about is excessive alcohol consumption among young people and the social pressure they are exposed to in some societies and settings.

I am also concerned about the social pressure internationals are exposed to concerning this aspect. It can become a real social barrier.

  • What is your experience with this?
  • Do you find it acceptable that your teenagers – starting from what age? – drink alcohol on a regular basis (weekly)?
  • What are your family rules when it comes to alcohol consumption?


Interesting reads on this topic:

Social and Cultural Aspects of Drinking

Religion and Alcohol






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