Greeks filled with spirit

“Let’s talk over a glass of wine» is a phrase that no longer appears to apply to Greece, since its inhabitants are turning in greater numbers to stronger drinks, especially in the younger age groups. Whisky consumption especially has undergone a spectacular rise, in the region of 279 percent during 1981-1991, and continues to increase. Typically, 600 thousand crates of whisky, containing 12 bottles each, were sold in 1981, while 2,586,000 crates were sold in 2001, according to figures from the Federation of Greek Distillates and Alcoholic Beverages (SEAOP). «Modern life has changed our drinking habits as well,» said Christos Loutzakis, general secretary of SEAOP. Moreover, Greece tops the European Union rankings in the consumption of hard liquor, at 2.7 liters of spirits, chiefly whisky and vodka, per person per annum. By contrast, wine consumption is dropping, as is that of the traditional Greek drink, ouzo. «We have had an increase in consumption, chiefly in strong drinks, which is not a particularly good thing. Wine is much more of a communicative drink; we usually talk and eat while drinking, while whisky is much more of a solitary drink,» said Angeliki Tsarouchi, director of the Nutrition Advice Center at the Sismanogleio Hospital. Among adolescents, the drink of choice is usually beer, which will also be responsible for their first bout of drunkenness. Adult Greeks also drink beer, but in far smaller amounts than other Europeans, at just 42 liters per person a year. The Irish lead the way in beer consumption, with 150 liters per person per annum on average. They are followed by Luxembourgers, with 111 liters per person consumed annually. But the latter make up the difference by drinking the most wine in the European Union, 70 liters per person a year. The hardest drinkers in the EU, Luxembourgers consume 13.3 percent of all alcohol that is bought and sold in the Union. By contrast, Greeks occupy a fairly low place in the drinking league in comparison to other countries in Europe, with only 9.1 of total alcohol consumption. Predictably, the French maintain a preference for wine – though consumption has dropped in recent years – drinking an average of 58 liters of wine annually, and only 39 liters of beer. An additional 2.4 liters of strong spirits per person per annum put the French in third place (together with Ireland) in total alcohol consumption, with 10.8 percent. A particular love for wine is displayed by two other wine-producing countries in the EU – Portugal (53 liters of wine per person a year) and Italy (52 liters per person per year). Portugal is also second out of all European countries in the total amount of alcohol consumed, with 11.2 percent. By contrast, Italy not only has the lowest consumption of other alcoholic drinks, only 0.6 liters per person per year, but at 7.7 percent, is also low on the list for overall alcohol consumption. In a seeming departure from logic, the Spanish prefer strong spirits, since they each knock back 2.5 liters annually of whisky, vodka and other drinks, as compared to only 36 liters of wine. In many European countries, such as Italy, Spain and France, alcohol consumption is in relative decline while in Ireland, Denmark, Luxembourg, Portugal and the UK, it is on the increase. EU research shows that young people have their first drink in early adolescence and become regular drinkers from 15 onward. Fifty percent of 15-year-olds in Wales, 43 percent in Denmark, 42 percent in Greece and 40 percent in England said they drank beer regularly. Doctors OK three glasses a day The head of the Nutrition Advice Center at the Sismanogleio Hospital, Angeliki Tsarouchi, explained to Kathimerini that as long as there is no health issue, a policy on alcohol should set limits rather than impose prohibitions. «Obviously, alcoholic drinks shouldn’t be consumed by minors. Adults can drink what we call a ‘reasonable amount,’ consisting of three glassfuls a day for men and two for women. Moderation, and not an outright ban, is the way to deal with alcohol.» Alcohol has been present in all civilizations. The seventh-century Parian poet, Archilochus, said that he drank the first cup to health, the second to friendship and the third to love. Afterward comes the descent into boastfulness and arrogance. Homer, however, only referred to drunkenness once – in the case of the Cyclops. A glass of wine, said Tsarouchi, is equivalent to half a large glass of beer or a glass of whisky – using the proper serving measures, which are not the same for whisky and wine. Three glasses a day pose no problems, but that does not mean saying to ourselves that that allows 21 glasses a week, and then knocking back those 21 glasses in one night, she added. Drinking slowly means that the level of alcohol in the blood does not rise suddenly. For alcohol not to appear in the blood at all, one hour must pass after a glass of wine. «After five glasses, we must let five hours pass in order to drive with safety. It is also a myth that alcohol has no effects if we drink while eating. It’s just that when we eat, especially fatty foods, alcohol is absorbed and thus enters the bloodstream less quickly.» Women are less tolerant of alcohol, Tsarouchi said, because they have larger amounts of fatty tissue. «But alcohol toleration varies from person to person due to genetic factors, which no one can overcome. It’s a question of personal susceptibility.»