This study examined relations between cultural norms and drinking practices in Italian young people using qualitative interviewing techniques. We collected self-report drinking history information from young people including whether or not they were allowed alcohol with meals in a family setting when growing up.
We conducted ethnographic interviews of 80 adolescent (ages 16–18) and 80 young adult (ages 25–30) regular and heavy drinkers in two regions (Abruzzo and Umbria). All 20 Italian regions produce wine. Abruzzo has a high ratio of heavy drinkers while Umbria has a high ratio of regular drinkers. We used the AUDIT to determine eligibility. We queried age at first drink, first 5+, first drunk, context of drinking, drinking with family during meals, availability of alcohol at home, parent's relationship to, attitudes about and discussion about alcohol.
Half of regular and heavy drinkers were allowed alcohol in a family setting while growing up. Those allowed alcohol with meals when growing up consumed less on their first drink occasion and were more likely to never drink 5+ or get drunk than those not allowed. They also had reduced or delayed 5+ or drunk occasions.
In Italy the tradition of incorporating alcohol with meals in a family setting may protect against harmful drinking. Other qualitative research should explore family, other adult and peer relationships to clarify alcohol use and risk-related behaviors. Research in countries with similar and different early age introduction would increase knowledge about the protective aspect of drinking in a family setting.
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