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Binge drinking spreads to Italy

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"It's got much worse in the last five years. There's a lot more violence, and you see groups of 15 or 20 young teenagers drinking in the streets and causing trouble. "There are gangs with knives. It's becoming just like England," says Mr. Cecchini, standing next to a plaque behind the bar which reads, in English: "A pint a day keeps the doctor away."

Alcoholism on the rise

The statistics are alarming, prompting the Italian government to describe the problem of alcohol abuse as a national emergency.

In a report released last month, Italy's Alcoholics Anonymous said that in the under-18 age group, 42 percent of boys and 21 percent of girls binge drink (defined as heavy consumption in a short period with the goal of intoxication) on weekends.

Around 1.5 million Italians between the ages of 11 and 24 are now considered to be at risk for alcoholism. The number of diagnosed alcoholics here has tripled in the last decade to around 60,000 out of a population of 60 million.

For Italians, becoming drunk in public was once a social taboo – a cause for shame, particularly for women. But now, neighbourhood enoteca bars, where a glass of wine is often accompanied by a plate of cured meat and bits of cheese, are being crowded out by British-style pubs with names like The Drunken Ship and Sloppy Sam's.

"They are drinking a lot and they are drinking to get drunk," says Andrea Codispoti, a barman in a hole-in-the-wall pub off Rome's Piazza Campo de' Fiori, in the heart of the city's historic center. "They don't even like the taste of alcohol, but they feel that they need to get smashed to look cool in front of their friends."

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