Hidden epidemic

As Portugal marked National Alcoholics Anonymous day recently, experts hoped that the event would focus attention on a growing national alcohol problem. It is estimated that there are 700,000 chronic alcoholics in Portugal and more than a million people who drink to excess. According to official figures, the direct and indirect costs of alcohol consumption in Portugal run to five million euros every year.

Data from the World Health Organisation points to 55,000 deaths annually from alcohol related problems, including those provoked by road accidents. The illness also accounts, directly or indirectly, for one in four deaths in youngsters aged between 15 and 29.

When it comes to Portugal’s foreign community, estimating the depth of the problem is difficult. However, an expert from the Algarve told The Resident that there were around 200 English speaking expats currently attending AA groups in the region. And, in his opinion, this is just the tip of the iceberg. “It is a huge problem worldwide and nobody wants to do anything about it. People still refuse to see it as a disease and see it as weakness of character,” he explained.

Experts also suggest that people are starting to drink from a younger age. Our source told us that there are people attending recovery groups in their early 30s, who already have 15 to 20 years of heavy drinking behind them. He also believed there was a growing link between alcoholism and drug addiction: “You often find that people who are members of Alcoholic Anonymous are also members of Narcotics Anonymous. But there is one important difference, of course – the consumption of alcohol is completely legal.”

There are, at least, 10 different AA groups throughout the Algarve, holding a total of 25 meetings every week. The Resident has details of contact numbers for anyone who is concerned about their drinking (see page 44).