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The Cagli Media Project
Institute for Education
in International Media
Andrew Ciofalo, Director

by Kate Lacey

Music blasting, scandalous dancing, lights down low in a jam-packed room. Drinks are being poured, beer chugged, shots downed. Stumbling home drunk … sounds like just another night out at Caffé del Corso, a popular bar among the younger crowd in Cagli, Italy.

It’s the hotspot where people in their late teens and twenties gather each night to hang out with friends or unwind from a long week over a few drinks. But these days, that often turns into a few too many.

Young Italians seem to be consuming more alcohol today than their parents’ generation ever did. Everyone knows of Italians’ affinity for a glass of wine or two with meals, and it has long been a custom for Italian adults to occasionally enjoy a Cinzano aperitif or a small glass of grappa socially. But styles of drinking and the objectives for consumption of alcohol appear to be changing over time.

Many young adults now drink to get drunk.

“We know from the most recent data and surveys that some 700,000 kids – boys and girls – under the age of 16 consume alcohol in our country; and the trend, unfortunately, is rising sharply in recent years,” Emanuele Scafato, head of the official National Observatory on Alcohol, said in April during observation in Rome of the World Health Organization’s “Alcohol-Abuse Prevention Day.”

“We’re most worried about adolescents, who are more vulnerable to the negative effects of alcohol,” he was quoted as saying by Italian publications. “But we’re also concerned that the Mediterranean model for drinking – characterized by moderation and associated with consumption of wine with meals, also is being abandoned by adults.” He cited a proliferation of “open bars” and “happy hours” at bars and discos as a big part of the problem.

Scafato referred to a recent health ministry-financed survey carried out in discotheques that showed 74 percent of young people regularly include drinking in their Saturday-night plans, and that one out of five of them gets drunk almost every weekend.

Instead of slowly sipping and enjoying a glass of wine or two with their families over dinner, young Italians are increasingly adopting American social behaviors of chugging drinks and getting plastered. This trend, unfamiliar to past generations of Italians, is evident throughout Italy, including the small town of Cagli.

Italian law requires that people be 18 or older to drink alcohol. However, that law is openly flouted. There are few if any restrictions on drinking in Cagli.

“No one ever checks to see if you are 18 or older,” said Francesco Carnali, 19. “There is no pressure put on by bar owners to check IDs. It is just sad to see a 12-year-old abusing alcohol.”

Nicoletta Spendolini, a local high-school teacher, said she was surprised, almost shocked, by her students’ recent frank discussion with her of alcohol abuse in their social life. Drinking was not an issue when Spendolini was their age 25 years ago. “It was basically considered low-class for a young adult to drink alcohol and get drunk,” she says.

After speaking with her students about this issue, she says, “This was completely new to me. I was amazed at how my students talked about their drinking habits so naturally and openly, saying that it’s simply what they do socially--go out and drink heavily, to the point of getting smashed.”

At a rowdy bar one evening in Cagli, a group of teens and young adults talked about their thoughts on drinking. They all agreed that there’s just not much else to do.

“In a town like Cagli, this small, there is more of a culture for young people to drink and abuse it,” said Giuditta Leoni, age 20.

Alcohol tends to be relatively cheap in small towns like Cagli. This means that Cagliesi teens can afford more booze than they can handle.

Cagli’s small size also makes it more convenient, or at least less dangerous, to drink than in larger towns and cities.

“It is easier to get really drunk here because we can simply just walk home at the end of the night,” said Domenico Leoni, age 23. “It’s just a short walk home from the bar. We do not have to worry about catching the metro or driving a long way home from the bar. We can just stumble home.”

Many parents of adolescents who are going out and getting intoxicated are unaware of their children’s social behaviors.

“Parents and drinking just do not mix,” says Carnali. “My parents would slap me in the face if they ever found out that I get drunk.”

Officer Maurizio Zagni of the Cagli Police Department agrees that alcohol abuse among young Italians is more of a problem today than it has ever been. In an interview he described a recent accident that stunned the community. It was a foggy night and one car was speeding on the wrong side of the road and collided head on, into another car filled with drunken teenagers. He said that though the speed limit was 30 miles per hour, these cars were going at least 80.

All of the people in both cars were killed. After witnessing this nightmare, Zagni says that as he was directing the flow of traffic from the crash site, his own life was imperiled. Less than 20 minutes after the initial accident, another drunken teenager uncontrollably flew down the road and crashed into Zagni’s police car, and almost ran over Zagni himself. This type of incident involving teenage drunk drivers rarely occurred in past generations, he says.

“Prohibition is not the best way to deal with this issue,” says Giuditta Leoni. “They can’t just suddenly change the law and say, ‘OK, now you have to be 21 to drink alcohol,’ and expect everyone to follow. It just doesn’t work that way.”

In tacit acknowledgment of what many see as Italians’ ingrained lack of affinity for rule following, she adds, “People would not respect it or it would take a long, long time for people to actually respect it.”

Alcohol and Italy


Photos by Melissa Traynor
Video by Katie Koepfinger
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