Sober study outlines risks of binge drinking

The health risks are high after five glasses of alcohol Keystone

Almost one million people in Switzerland drink too much alcohol once every two weeks, according to a study published on Tuesday.

This content was published on May 3, 2005

The Swiss Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and other Drug-Related Problems says binge drinking does not just affect youngsters, as widely believed, but a broad cross-section of the population.

The institute says the risks from sporadic excessive drinking have been underestimated for a long time.

But occasional over-drinking has serious consequences, causing accidents and injuries and encouraging violence.

The Lausanne-based institute is calling for effective political measures and is suggesting preventive measures to those in the restaurant trade and organisers of festivals and sports events.

Sporadically drunk

The study, carried out on behalf of the Federal Health Office, says that 931,000 people sporadically drink to excess in Switzerland.

That means for men a quantity of alcohol contained in about five glasses of beer or wine. For women, the amount is four glasses.

Twice as many men as women are affected by the problem, the study finds.

"Drinking among men has for a long time been anchored in our society as a typical masculine habit and a socially-accepted ritual," explains Gerhard Gmel, who is in charge of research at the institute.

The study also found that 400,000 people who indulge in sporadic excessive drinking are at particular risk because at least twice a month they drink eight glasses of alcohol (men) or six glasses (women) in one go.

High risk

Such drinking happens mainly outside the home, for example at weekend parties, which brings a very high risk of road accidents, it says.

It is also behind many family problems, such as domestic violence.

There are particularly high risks for youngsters who get heavily intoxicated, such as accidents, alcohol poisoning, unprotected sex and school problems.

"Since this kind of excessive drinking affects larges sections of the population, effective political measures are needed," says the institute’s director Michel Graf.

"The price of alcoholic drinks should be substantially increased and the number of alcohol outlets reduced," he argues.

"Although the majority of cantons forbid the sale of alcohol to those who are drunk, this rule is often ignored in practice," he adds.


Key facts

Sporadic excessive drinking is a scientific term for alcohol consumption that leads to adverse physical and psychological effects.
It manifests itself in slower reaction, lack of judgement and self-control, as well as difficulties of concentration and coordination.
Even if the person concerned does not perceive the symptoms, a state of drunkenness and intoxication occurs after four or five glasses of alcohol.

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