Having too much fun — why we shouldn’t drink to that

Problem drinking

“Alcohol dependence” and “teenagers” aren’t words we would normally put in a single sentence.

But drinking more than double the lower risk guidelines for alcohol consumption is gaining notoriety in some parts of the island. Having 5 drinks for men and 4 drinks for women in a single session at least once in the previous two weeks – known as binge drinking – is increasingly common: A 2012 study reported that 10% of young adults aged 18 to 34 binge drink, and that 5 in 100 have alcohol-use problems

Statistics from a 2004 WHO report put alcohol dependence among local residents at .06% (based on a 2000-2001 study). According to 2004 statistics, 3% of the population had problems with alcohol abuse and only 5% of them sought help. Figures from 2012 indicated that over 3% of the population had alcohol-use problems (in contrast, 5% of young adults did).

And the problem’s not exactly going away. A local article in Nov 2013 indicated an increase in the demand from clients wanting to address their alcohol-use problems. Another thing that’s on the climb is anecdotal evidence about excessive drinking.

Excessive alcohol is bad for our physical and mental health. Not surprising, really. Too much alcohol over the long-term does not just do invisible things to us, such as cause scarring of the liver and inflammation of the pancreas. But overconsumption of alcohol also impacts us in ways we can appreciate: It impairs our memory capacity and cognitive function.

We would faintly recall that when we had too much alcohol, we would have had difficulty making good decisions and coordinating our eyes, brain, and limbs in a cogent manner. But we might not recall a blackout or memory loss (well the fact is, we couldn’t remember). Too much alcohol is also responsible for permanent brain damage (though fret not — brain cells can be recovered through aerobic exercise).

More lethal effects of alcohol abuse and dependence are the risks of head and neck cancers, liver cancer, and colorectal cancers, which arise from heavy drinking.

But here are some other facts you may not be aware of:

1. The proportion of young men (aged 18 to 29 years) who were binge drinkers in 2012 was 18.7%. It’s not a dissimilar proportion from that reported in 2004, which was 18.9%.

2. The proportion of young women (aged 18 to 29 years) who were binge drinkers in 2012 was 12.2%, which is higher than the proportion reported in 20014, which was 9.4%.

3. Studies show that university students who binge drink are much more likely to miss classes and fall behind in their work and grades

4. But not everyone has a drink problem. The first step is to find out if problem drinking is an issue: Try this quiz or this self-assessment.

5. There are other ways to get high and to de-stress: There’s no shortage of suggestions in this, this, and this post. One can also try exercise which doesn’t feel like “exercise”.

6. Parents can have a major impact on their children’s drinking if they talk to their children about it in the preteen and early teen years or before they go to university.

7. Everyone should know the risks of drinking and driving. The standard unit of .6 ounces of alcohol (a glass of wine, a shot of vodka, or a can of beer) is within the legal limit, but the lesson about not mixing drink and driving is one that should be learnt early (here’s a fact sheet).

8. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has been shown to be an effective intervention for changing drinking habits (CBT is explained here). Motivational Interviewing (MI) has also been found to be effective as a brief intervention for reducing drinking behaviours (more about MI here).

9. A mega meta-analysis in 2002 made it clear that interventions which combined CBT and MI with craving-reducing medications (more about them here), are more effective than abstinence programmes, even with adolescents.

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