With such a bustling nightlife scene, Singaporeans know shockingly little about alcoholism, how prevalent it is, and where to go for help.
Did you know: alcohol abuse is the second most common cause of mental disorders in Singapore, affecting one in 24 people. With National Addiction Awareness Day falling on 20 August, it never hurts to learn more about alcohol addiction and understand the warning signs. That’s why I enlisted the help of experts from the National Addictions Management Service by the Institute of Mental Health: Dr Gomathinayagam Kandasami and Samuel Chua.
Alcoholism, alcoholic, or alcohol addiction, you ask? The correct term is ‘alcohol addiction’. Person-first language focuses on the individual instead of the illness. So instead of perpetuating the stigma with ‘addict’ or ‘alcoholic’, use terms like ‘person with an addiction’ or ‘person with alcohol addiction’ instead.
4 things you didn’t know about alcohol addiction
1. It’s a mental health disorder
Dr Gomathinayagam explains, “it’s classified under mental disorders because once an addiction develops, it gives rise to significant psychological, social and occupational consequences, and runs a chronic course with multiple relapses during recovery.”
2. Addiction can be hereditary
Samuel confirms that people whose immediate family members have addictive disorders have a higher chance of developing alcohol addiction and need to take special precautions if they’re alcohol drinkers.
3. Going cold turkey is not recommended
Even for people with mild alcohol addiction, the side effects can be rather severe in some cases. For individuals with pre-existing medical problems, going cold turkey can be life-threatening, and seizures are not uncommon. It’s important to see a doctor first when you plan to cut down or stop alcohol use.
4. You CAN overcome it
Dr Gomathinayagam notes that the earlier the intervention, the better your chances of recovery. Recovery from alcohol addiction is definitely possible – but you do need to seek early treatment and have strong family support.
Signs and symptoms of alcohol dependence (or addiction)
- Craving: a strong and constant compulsion or desire to drink.
- Tolerance: the need to drink increasing amounts of alcohol to feel the desired high.
- Physical dependence: withdrawal symptoms when a person stops after a period of excessive drinking. Such symptoms include anxiety, sweating, nausea and tremors.
- Loss of control: alcohol is often consumed in larger amounts or over a longer period than intended.
- Alcohol use continues despite the knowledge that you have a persistent physical or psychological problem likely caused or exacerbated by alcohol.
Why is it important to protect the family?
Having dealt with someone who experienced alcohol use disorder, I know first-hand that it affects the person and their friends and family. You tend to treat those closest to you the worst. So these pillars of support need to take care of themselves as well. A good place to start is for family members to gain an understanding of alcohol addiction and find ways to practise self-care amidst the situation at home.
Families should seek professional help as soon as possible; safety is of primary concern. There are treatment and social support services available to those who have suffered traumatic experiences.
Where can you get help for alcohol addiction?
Well, the National Addictions Management Service conducts integrated intervention involving a combination of medical treatment and psychosocial therapies. The team of psychiatrists, counsellors, medical social workers, nurses and psychologists work together to help you with your addictions as well as your family in the treatment process.
Both inpatient and outpatient programmes are available with individual counselling, general educational, group and family counselling sessions. If the patient also suffers from depression and anxiety, as is common for those who have an alcohol addiction, they’ll be treated for that too.
For an extended period of rehabilitation to reduce the chances of relapse, self-help groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and community rehabilitation agencies such as halfway houses are also available in Singapore.
If you need help with alcohol addiction or know someone who’s struggling, reach out to the All Addictions Helpline at 6-RECOVER (6-7326837) or visit the National Addictions Management Service website for more information.