Education needed about the dangers of alcohol

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 July, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 July, 2004, 12:00am

Of the many health problems concerning us in Hong Kong, alcoholism is one which receives little attention. Figures recently released suggest there is a need for greater concern.

As we report today, average alcohol consumption has been falling in Hong Kong. While certain drinks have developed a trendy appeal, the overall intake of beer and brandy is declining while the amount of wine being sipped has remained relatively steady.

But this apparently healthy situation does not tell the whole story. Different statistics show that the number of cases of alcohol-dependence syndrome is increasing. This is particularly worrying, as the illness is the most serious form of alcohol abuse, involving severe addiction. Experts suggest that it might only be the tip of the iceberg.

There is a need to treat the figures with caution. They are still relatively small compared to other parts of the world. Also, the level surged after 2000 when the way in which alcohol-related illnesses are classified was revised. This has contributed to the increase. Nevertheless, the head of our city's only publicly run alcohol dependence clinic warns that alcoholism could be becoming a serious problem. It is certainly one which should be taken seriously.

The consumption of alcoholic drinks is nothing new to Hong Kong. Originally, it would have been rice wine. But beer, wine and spirits have long been available. Cognac is still often passed round at Chinese meals and the better off have developed a taste for fine wines.

However, it is not part of the culture here in the same way as it is in other parts of the world. Unlike in Europe, lunches are more likely to involve the sipping of Chinese tea, rather than the swigging of alcoholic beverages. And social occasions do not depend on a ready supply of beer, wine and spirits.

The statistics, however, remind us that Hong Kong people are not immune to the dangers of drinking. The abuse of alcohol is a severe threat to health - and the dangers cannot be taken lightly.

It may well be that, as some experts suggest, the pressures of life in Hong Kong - particularly the economic woes of recent years - have driven people to seek comfort in the bottle.

Moderate drinking - up to four small glasses of wine a day for men and three for women - is not usually harmful to health. There have been suggestions from the medical profession that a single glass a day can even be beneficial.

But social drinking can, for some, lead to a dependency on alcohol and to abuse - especially at times of stress.

There is no reason to be complacent. Greater effort should be made to educate the public about the dangers of alcohol abuse and to ensure that those who need help get it. It may not be the most pressing health problem in our city, but it should not be ignored.