If you see someone drunk and disorderly in Spain, it is likely they’re not Spanish. No doubt reading this there are many examples you can think of to the contrary. However, in my experience, problems with alcohol are much more likely to be enacted by visitors to Spain from its northern neighbours rather than by Spanish citizens themselves.
You could argue that it isn’t what age you drink that matters, it’s how you view and use alcohol. Overall, whatever the trends in Spain might be, it seems as though young Spanish people are more restrained in their drinking and don’t practice getting ‘borracho’ (drunk) quite as often as their northern European peers.
A better relationship with alcohol
Why? Alcohol is cheap here, readily available and a part of every day life. Perhaps this is the answer. For those living in Spain, alcohol seems to be more of a normal daily habit rather than a binge opportunity. You can get a ‘drink’ in places where you wouldn’t dream of expecting one in other countries. The hospital sells alcohol, McDonalds sells alcohol, you’re never far from an opportunity to take your first tipple of the day, if that’s what you choose.
Any form of restriction tends to bring with it a human tendency to kick again the rule. In the UK, for example, the sale of alcohol has, and continues to be, strictly regulated with closing times, last orders and strict street prohibitions. Alcohol is expensive to buy and its sale is closely monitored in most stores and supermarkets.
Rather than this curbing young people’s drinking habits, it has arguably exacerbated them. Pre-drinking is the norm as some young people drink at home before they go out to ensure they are pretty drunk before they even enter their first bar. Limited opening times mean that ‘necking’ your drinks as quickly as possible is obligatory.
Stratified age groups
Another factor that might encourage poor drinking habits is single-age venues. We might enjoy being with people of our own age exclusively but in practice it is rarely a good thing. Group together the middle aged, the pensioners, the teenagers and misunderstandings fester. Behaviour isn’t always too good either. We can allow ourselves to degenerate into lowest common denominators when we don’t need to worry about young children being around or the disapproval of more elderly relatives.
All this positive news about Spain’s relationship with alcohol does not mean that it is without its problems. The Spanish people are increasingly concerned about the drinking habits of the young, much as in other European countries. The Leader newspaper recently reported on this concern and suggested government actions. Or rather, inaction. There are no plans currently to raise the legal age limit for alcohol consumption in Spain. The present law sets it at 18 but research suggests that most young people start drinking alcohol at around 13. Increasing the age even higher would hardly address problems with underage drinking in Spain, given the laws are already being broken.
So what’s the answer for Spain? The government has announced that they want to educate young people to understand the risks better. By and large the problem here is perhaps growing but is still far less than in many other European countries. Advice to Spain might be, look at what the others have done and do the opposite. It can’t be any worse!