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Campaigners call time on binge drinking

Many drinkers refuse to admit they have a problem

(Keystone)

Growing concern over binge drinking in Switzerland has prompted alcohol prevention groups to focus on the issue during a national awareness campaign on Thursday.

According to the Institute for the Prevention of Drug and Alcohol Addiction, 930,000 Swiss – one in eight – overindulge at least twice a month.

The institute says it classes binge drinking as five glasses for a man and four for a woman.

A glass is defined as 300ml of beer, 100ml of wine and 20-40ml of spirits.

This may not sound excessive, but according to spokeswoman Janine Messerli such behaviour greatly increases the risk of accidents, violence, unsafe sex and other health risks.

"We know that most people don't consider this [amount] as excessive, but you are already intoxicated from a medical point of view after less than five glasses," she told swissinfo. "Your concentration and coordination are affected."

Since the introduction of tougher drink-driving restrictions in January 2005, the number of alcohol-related road deaths has tumbled – by 38 per cent during the first half of this year.

But campaigners are concerned that if a binge-drinking culture takes root in Switzerland, drink-drive deaths will remain a problem.

A 2005 study by the institute found that those who indulge in occasional bouts of excessive consumption, for instance at parties, are at particular risk of being involved in a road accident.

Widespread problem

Another point that the Bern-based institute is keen to drive home is that binge drinking is not confined to the younger generation.

Although studies show that Swiss teenagers, like their counterparts elsewhere in Europe, are drinking more alcohol and at a younger age, statistics show that the problem is spread evenly across the 15-44 age group.

"In the media and sometimes also in prevention the focus is on young people but binge drinking is a phenomenon that you find up until middle age, such as 45," said Messerli.

Another issue is drinking during work hours. A 2005 report showed that around a fifth of workplace accidents were linked to alcohol.

Again, getting the message through is not always easy. On Tuesday 1,000 firms were invited to attend a Geneva workshop outlining the risks but only around 30 showed up.

Laurence Fehlmann Rielle, secretary-general of the city's Federation for Alcohol Prevention, which organised the event, conceded that some firms – like many drinkers – were reluctant to admit that they might have a problem.

Lack of funding means that there is no nationwide poster campaign accompanying this year's solidarity day for those affected by alcohol abuse. But fact sheets are being sent to organisers of cultural and sporting events, restaurant and bar owners, and motorists.

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont

In brief

A study released in May this year revealed that 1,300 adolescents and young adults between the ages of ten and 23 were treated in Swiss hospitals in 2003 for alcohol abuse.

A campaign was launched in Switzerland last year to highlight the dangers of drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

Experts say that 7.4% of pregnant women drink far too much alcohol and that each year 5,000 mothers-to-be are exposing their unborn babies to health risks.

According to the Federal Health Office, alcohol plays a part in one in five suicides in Switzerland.

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