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  • Writer's pictureJanis Skrastins

It's hard to believe, but alcoholism has become a serious problem across the country

For most of society, the word "alcoholic" is associated with a person who is clearly defined by appearance and behaviour - in other words, a socially disadvantaged person who also tends to break the law to satisfy his or her cravings for alcohol. From a medical point of view, an alcoholic is a person who drinks regularly, regardless of his or her social status. In addition, he or she may look great, have a well-paid job, run a large company, perform responsible tasks and come up with innovative ideas. Although there is no concrete research and no consensus on where this line should be drawn, doctors and professionals are increasingly promoting the idea that any alcohol consumption is in principle harmful to health and that it has to be consumed little and rarely.

Alcohol is a real problem in Latvia

Unfortunately, alcohol addiction in Latvia has become a real and serious social problem, affecting people of all ages, genders, professions and social classes. Alcohol consumption is a serious problem for bank workers, teachers, business managers, the unemployed and minors. The profile of alcohol drinkers is very broad and cannot be stereotyped. Of course, in this context, heredity or upbringing, where a child has always seen one or both parents drinking regularly, may play an important role, for example. In this case, sooner or later the next generation may start copying the behaviour of the parents.

"It has always been a question why so many people drink alcohol heavily and why Latvia has such a high per capita alcohol consumption. A study in this area could be very complex, or provide general information that is already clear from observation. In general terms, people think that alcohol will provide a solution to their problem. In the very short term, it does. The person may forget, fear, anxiety and stress may decrease. However, once the alcohol has worn off, the problem remains, nothing has changed. Rather, it has changed only for the worse - relationships with loved ones have been damaged, a job has been lost, a sense of well-being has been impaired or a third party has been harmed..."

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Latvia takes silver in alcohol consumption

This is the silver that Latvia unfortunately cannot be proud of. According to the World Health Organisation, Latvia has almost become the world leader in per capita consumption of alcoholic beverages - 13.19 litres of pure alcohol per year (2019 data). Latvia is only beaten by the Czech Republic with 14.26 litres.

This figure has increased significantly since 2009, when it was around 10 litres. In contrast, in almost all other countries, alcohol consumption has decreased since 2009. Data published by SKDSduring the Covid-19 pandemic showthat the amount of alcoholic beverages consumed in Latvia slightly decreased at the beginning of the pandemic (by 7.2% in 2020 compared to 2019 data). In contrast, it is reported to have increased by 21% on average worldwide.

Scientists and statisticians promise that in the next two decades this could result in higher death rates from the consequences of excessive alcohol consumption: cancer, various cardiovascular diseases, cirrhosis of the liver, etc.

Where is the border?

Ideally, no one should use any intoxicating substances because they change behaviour, thinking and emotions. However, we do not live in an ideal world.

Various studies have shown that, in theory, an average of 100 ml of wine or about 370 ml of light beer per day could have minimal health effects without significantly increasing the risk of cancer, cardiovascular and other diseases. However, exceeding this intake significantly increases the risk, especially when alcohol is combined with other harmful habits such as smoking or drug use.

Statistics show that the Latvian population is well over this limit. The Latvian Ministry of Health has developed Cabinet Order No 412 "On the Action Plan to Reduce Alcoholic Beverage Consumption and Curb Alcoholism 2020-2022", which sets out the current situation, trends and mitigation plan.

Comparing alcohol consumption in Latvia with the amount that should not be consumed without significant harm to health, it is clear that the difference is huge. For example, 350 ml of beer or 150 ml of wine is about 18 ml of pure alcohol. When this figure is converted into drinks, the result is very impressive: every Latvian over the age of 15 drinks around 250 litres of beer or 109 litres of wine per year. This means that if a person in Latvia does not drink alcohol at all, someone else drinks as much as 500 litres of beer or 218 litres of wine. That's an impressive amount of alcoholic beverages.

Short-term action and long-term consequences

Excessive alcohol consumption has long-term negative consequences for essentially all aspects of a person's life - health and appearance (including physical and mental health), relationships (within the family, with friends, with colleagues) and professional functioning (including growth and income). In the short term, thoughtless behaviour can sometimes be excused, forgiven and forgotten, but in the long term it causes serious problems in dealing with others. People who drink regularly and excessively may not experience negative effects on their health in the short term, but in the long term it slowly but surely causes serious harm, reducing not only the quality but also the length of their lives.

Excessive alcohol consumption is a national problem, affecting in principle the whole of society, including people who do not drink alcohol themselves. The consequences of frequent and heavy alcohol consumption result in an additional pressure on the medical field - the treatment of various avoidable diseases. Drink-driving is the second most frequent cause of road accidents, while alcohol is involved in more than 70% of family conflicts where violence is suspected (Riga Municipal Police data).

In addition, various other studies and statistics should be considered, relating to productivity or negligence at work, school performance (in families where one or both parents regularly drink alcohol), etc. It is therefore possible to conclude that reducing alcohol consumption could result in many positive changes not only in the lives of individuals and their families, but also in society as a whole.

How to identify alcohol overuse?

The World Health Organisation has developed a simple test. Answer 10 questions to find out if your drinking habits are significantly affecting your health.

How easy it is to reduce or stop drinking

In principle, there is no single answer to this question, as situations vary greatly. This is of course no excuse to continue drinking alcohol, given all the negative aspects that are associated with it.

The most practical advice is probably simply not to drink! However, it should be kept in mind that a struggling alcoholic has developed a physical dependence on alcohol. Therefore, staying in the same environment, not changing rituals, not seeking professional help, "just not drinking" might be quite difficult or even impossible. The loved ones of the alcoholic also need to be aware of this. This is why many people who have reached a crossroads and realise that they cannot go on like this change their environment or go to a recovery or rehabilitation centre. It is also imperative to want to change the way you think and go about your daily rituals - there is a solution for that too: Alcoholics Anonymous fellowships, therapy, coaching, etc., which is usually also offered in recovery centres. As Albert Einstein said, "No problem can be solved by the same thinking that created it!"

A "Sober way" approach to improving the situation in Latvia

The Sober way Recovery Centre offers a unique approach based on a number of effective methods for people who want to break the vicious cycle of alcoholism. These methods are used by many of the world's most prominent rehabilitation centres, whose founders were once addicted to alcohol or drugs themselves and have put these methods to work to fight their addiction.

"We want to offer our recovery centre clients effective tools to take control of their own behaviour, making it much less likely that they can mask their fears, stress or momentarily erase a problem with too much alcohol. Thoughts of drinking will come, triggers will be around, stress and fear situations will arise, so being able to identify triggers and learn to respond to them without using destructive techniques or learning to ignore them will be the best strategy to avoid slipping off the wagon. Because, as we know, if an addict drinks one glass, he probably won't stop there... Unfortunately..."

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