New study warns of dangers of problem drinking and alcohol addiction in Czech Republic

21-01-2010

A new study conducted by Czech researchers on alcohol consumption has suggested that the problem of alcohol abuse could be worsening in the Czech Republic. The study, to be published in the Central European Journal of Public Health, suggested that as much as 30 percent of Czech men are problem drinkers while the number is 9 percent for women, risking health and possible addiction through their drinking habits.

Dr Karel Nešpor, one of the country’s most well-known experts on the treatment of addiction at Prague’s Bohnice Psychiatric Hospital, agrees the numbers are worrying.

“Alcohol consumption is consistently high in this country and we have one of the highest per capita levels of consumption in all of Europe.”

What is alarming is that a number of ‘hazardous’ drinkers may not realise the risk: experts stress that is can be a fine line between when alcohol goes from being part of an ordinary social life to an insurmountable problem. Karel Nešpor again:

“The amount of alcohol is not the main point. There are many who have a strong resistance to alcohol. But others have far less. For some even a small amount of alcohol can cause considerable damage, not least if they are taking medication or are pregnant. It varies from person to person. There are some people for whom no amount of alcohol is safe.”

Monika Plocová is a Prague-based psychotherapist helping women overcome alcohol addiction. She agrees that people often do underestimate the problem:

“Usually it starts with light drinking, say a glass of wine a day, and that situation can continue for years. But then something happens that changes everything. It’s a very fragile moment and it’s impossible to say when you will cross the line and find yourself on the ‘other side’. So you keep drinking and don’t think you have a problem – or you tell yourself that you don’t. And then suddenly you begin to feel that something is no longer right.”

After that, it becomes extremely difficult, especially for many women drinkers to admit what’s happened because of the stigma associated with alcohol abuse. And families, with no previous experience in addiction, are often also at a strong disadvantage, often failing to realise for some time just how serious the problem is. Specialist Karel Nešpor again:

“You can probably say the most important feature in recognising alcohol dependence is lost or impaired control. Such people drink even in inappropriate situations and are unable to control their amount of alcohol. So for such people, total sobriety is the only safe choice.”

Families with a parent or child addicted to alcohol often face long or even unsuccessful trials of getting their loved one, often in denial, to undergo treatment. Only alcoholics who are suicidal or a threat to their environment receive court orders. Otherwise, families are largely on their own. Psychotherapist Monika Plocová knows the dangers: 10 years ago, before helping people today, she too had to overcome alcohol addiction:

“Facing the problem is extremely difficult and beginning treatment there is no light at the end of the tunnel. For everyone it’s different. But all patients, including me ten years ago, feel that their world has turned inside-out. They have hit rock bottom and fear the future. There doesn’t seem to be any solution. During 11 weeks of treatment (in cases mandatory by the state) a bit of hope gradually begins to emerge and a person begins to gain self-awareness and hopefully regains reasons to live. But it is a very long process, one that does not end with initial treatment but continues with outpatient programmes.”

Relapses are common and failure rates high, but according to Monika Plocová patients have to keep trying: and there are of course those who succeed fully, discovering a new focus in their lives.

“Some dig deep and are able to discover an inner potential they never knew they had. In my case, I learned I could write and could also help others. Someone else might find painting or go back to school. Sometimes these kinds of discoveries are possible.”

Most specialists in the field stress that overcoming addiction is a lifelong battle, where former patients can be successful only if they honestly address the risks and put their mind to finding activities – hobbies or work – to replace the hole left by the absence of drink. Bohnice Psychiatric Hospital’s Karel Nešpor once again:

“Their chances are definitely higher but definitely they are not cured. After a six-week programme, for example, there is a lessening of craving and there is better self-control. But definitely the problem isn’t solved. We work here as somebody showing the right way, guiding people through the first steps, but definitely we can’t take them all the way.”

As for problem drinking, examined in the recent study? Karel Nešpor says a single major step by the government would go a long way in curbing problematic levels of consumption - a step he and others in the field of addiction believe would have a significant impact: raising the tax on beer and other alcoholic beverages so they might cost more than juice or a soft drink.

“Many simple soft drinks or non-alcoholic beverages are more expensive than beer. This is ridiculous and I can’t think of any other country where that would be the case, where this would be tolerated. People should know that it is unfair for the alcohol industry to take the profits and leave damaged people unable to work or pay taxes. This should be compensated and is quite rational and from the point of view of consumption, it is also effective.”

21-01-2010