Britain could have a big drinking problem because it puts people’s freedom and harmony first, say scientists.
Countries that value independence – like the UK – have the highest consumption levels, a study shows.
This is compared to those with more traditional beliefs – such as hierarchy and being part of a collective.
The worrying report found almost two in five men in Britain drink alcohol more than once a week along with a quarter of women.
For the first time researchers in Portugal and the UK – where the biggest binge drinkers in Europe are found – attempted to pinpoint broader societal and cultural predictors of alcohol intake.
Study author Dr Richard Inman, of Lusiada University in Porto, hopes the findings could help governments introduce policies that tackle alcoholism and binge drinking.
Scientists have attempted to pinpoint broader societal and cultural predictors of alcohol intake and say Britain has a drinking problem because it puts people’s freedom (stock image)
He said the study, published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, may have important implications for combating drinking problems.
‘Our results suggest bodies like World Health Organisation (WHO) should prioritise tackling alcohol consumption in countries that are more autonomous and less traditional,’ he said.
‘Future research should be directed at further understanding the relationship between cultural values and alcohol.’
Understanding why people drink excessively is of enormous importance to health authorities around the globe.
The WHO says harmful amounts caused over 3.3 million deaths in 2012 – more than one-in-twenty (6 per cent) of those that year.
It’s strongly linked with high blood pressure, liver cirrhosis and chronic pancreatitis and has a huge social and economic burden.
Other potentially fatal illnesses it can cause include heart disease, stroke and cancers of the respiratory system, digestive system, liver, breast and ovaries.
Dr Inman said many previous studies focused on why people drink excessively only at an individual level. His team wanted to get to the bottom of the cultural reasons.
So they collected publicly available online data on alcohol consumption and Cultural Value Orientations for 74 countries – including the UK – across the world.
A computer model then calculated if average levels in each nation could be associated with ideals of autonomy, hierarchy, harmony and collectivism.
Results were slightly different between men and women. But the research found independence and harmony fuelled alcohol consumption.
On the other hands more hierarchy or chains of command – along with ingrained values – or embeddedness – reduced it.
In May, a study found Britain came second only to Portugal in a European table of binge drinkers.
In particular, men in the UK drink three times as much as the average European woman.
It was the first study to compare the drinking habits of Europeans by looking at what they drink – and how often.
Binge drinking is defined as men who have consumed more than eight units and women more than six a day. Eight units is just over three pints of four per cent strength beer and six just over two large glasses (175ml) of 13 per cent strength wine.
The latest survey of 40,000 people – including 2,000 in the UK – found British women drank more on weekends – 6.4 units on average on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays – than those in any other countries except Ireland and Hungary.
More than one in nine British men (11.2 per cent) binge drink – behind only Portugal at 17.5 per cent.
One in 25 British women (4 per cent) do it – behind 5.2 per cent of females in Portugal and 5.1 per cent in the Netherlands.
Other major health issues
Dr Inman said that a significant proportion of all deaths globally can be attributed to alcohol consumption.
Co-author Dr Paul Hanel, of Bath University, said the findings open the door to carrying out similar studies on other major health issues – such as smoking and obesity.
He said: ‘Researchers could create similar profiles and models to help understand the cultural underpinnings for other risky behaviours such as smoking and drug taking – or health issues such as obesity.’
Smoking, inactivity and diet – along with excessive drinking – are the non-communicable diseases that cause 70 per cent of deaths worldwide.