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Economic crisis linked to alcoholism

By PAULO SILVESTRE AND DAISY SAMPSON [email protected]

More people in Portugal are seeking help at treatment centres for alcohol and drugs problems, with the economic crisis said to be one of the main drivers behind the increase.

Demand rose in 2009, with 10,000 new patients seeking help from the Institute of Drugs and Drug Addiction (Instituto de Drogas e Toxicodependência – IDT), a number which is expected to rise further this year with the aggravated financial climate in Portugal.

According to Ana Feijão, director of the Coimbra Alcohology Unit, there have been more cases of relapse “due to stress and pressure” than cases of people seeking help for the first time.

In response to the increasing number of people seeking help for drug and alcohol problems, the Portuguese government has now developed a National Plan for Reducing Problems Related to Alcohol (Plano Nacional de Redução dos Problemas Ligados ao Álcool), with the purpose of increasing the age of alcohol sale prohibition from 16 to 18 and lowering the legal driving tolerance rate for individuals who have acquired the drivers’ licence by 2012.

João Goulão, President of IDT, told Portuguese newspaper Público: “This measure does not make sense and will not be effective without proper education and training for parents, youngsters and alcohol sellers.”

He also said that there are aspects of the alcohol laws that should be revised for the sale of alcohol, such as increased surveillance by Portugal’s Food Safety and Economic Authority (ASAE) and police forces.

In a study released this year, Portuguese consumer watchdog Deco concluded that more than half of young people aged under 16 buy alcohol despite the legal prohibition.

Alex Flood, Clinical Manager at the Nova Vida Recovery Centre in the Algarve, told the Algarve Resident: “The new plan supports the long held view by addiction treatment professionals that alcohol is far and above all other drugs for the damage it does to individuals, families, children, jobs and society in general.”

He added: “In moderation, alcohol is an acceptable and pleasant way to celebrate or just to socially interact with close friends and families. When used to excess, it not only kills but also destroys those around. For every alcoholic, there are usually an average of five family members closely affected.”

John Healy, a recovering alcoholic who has not drunk for the past 10 years, is now the host of the Sober Holidays retreat in Monchique. His work with recovering alcoholics and personal experiences of alcohol has led to him to agree that alcohol is by far the worst drug used within society.

He told the Algarve Resident: “Alcohol is the most widely used and sociably acceptable drug within society and people generally do not see the harm that it is doing as many people can function while being an alcoholic and appear to be normal to others.”

He added: “There is a long history of alcohol abuse in Portugal and I have seen the families, women and children who have been the victims of alcoholism. This is a particular problem because it is an unspoken thing that people often suffer in silence with.”

The influence of others who visit the region is also a factor in considering the changing nature of alcohol use in the Algarve.

“We have the tourists who come here and party with alcohol, which influences the local people who live here who want to emulate the lifestyle. People want the car, the clothes, the bag and the general Champagne lifestyle which involves drinking, but the reality is alcohol abuse,” he said.

“Everything has a ripple effect and as families struggle to earn more and work harder then we lose the unit that keeps people together and this is when problems begin to arise.

“Young people need to have a strong family behind them to influence their choices and I believe that by raising the drinking limit to 18 that it could easily form a black market of use, similar to that of heroin and crack and may make the problem worse than it is.”

He added: “There is no quick fix to the problems of alcohol and I think we need to fight to save the family unit here to help to protect the younger members of society from alcohol.”

Meanwhile, in the UK, research made by former government drugs adviser Professor David Nutt examined how drugs harm individuals and their impact on society, and revealed that alcohol is the most damaging of all addictions.

The study published in the British medical journal The Lancet was developed by members of the Independent Scientific Committee on Drugs, including two invited specialists, which met in a one-day interactive workshop to score 20 drugs on 16 criteria.

Nine related to the harm that a drug produces in the individual and seven to the harm to others. Drugs were scored out of 100 points, with zero being the least harmful and 100 the most harmful.

The analysis showed that heroin, crack cocaine and methamphetamine were the most harmful drugs to individual users (part scores 34, 37, and 32 respectively), whereas alcohol, heroin, and crack cocaine were the most harmful to others (46, 21, and 17, respectively).

Overall, alcohol was the most harmful drug (overall harm score 72), with heroin (55) and crack cocaine (54) in second and third places.

According to the researchers, “these findings lend support to previous work assessing drug harm. However, the findings correlate poorly with present UK drug classification, which is not based simply on considerations of harm.”

According to Professor David Nutt, “if you take overall harm, then alcohol, heroin and crack are clearly more harmful than all others.”

A resident, who asked not to be named, told the Algarve Resident: “I think this study shows that the reason why alcohol is more dangerous than the so-called hard drugs is due to the fact that people with alcohol problems are constantly increasing. In my opinion, this happens because anyone can have free access to alcohol and buy it with just a couple of Euros. The result of excessive consumption of alcohol ends up being the same as the consumption of other drugs. May take longer for dependence effects and consequences but the result is the same.”

For more information or advice on safe drinking, please contact the Nova Vida Recovery Centre on 919 357 827 or 282 570 020.

Alternatively if you or anyone you know have a problem with alcohol, please call the English-speaking Alcoholics Anonymous Group in the Algarve on 919 005 590.

Do you have a view on this story? Please Email Editor Inês Lopes at [email protected]