'Many perceive alcohol to be harmless'

'Many perceive alcohol to be harmless'

More attention should be given to curb binge drinking, said a recent medical journal article on addictions in Singapore.

Alcohol consumption trends show that women aged between 18 and 29 years old are the fastest-growing group here.

The report - titled Addictions In Singapore: Changing Patterns And Evolving Needs - was by Dr Andrew Peh, senior consultant, department of psychological medicine at Changi General Hospital, Dr Lim Yun Chin, a psychiatrist from Raffles Hospital, and Dr Munidasa Winslow.

Binge drinking among Singaporean drinkers has increased from 5.1 per cent in 1992 to 10 per cent in 2004, according to the report.

Binge drinking was also evident in the Singapore Mental Health Survey, conducted in 2010.

In the long term, binge drinking can lead to alcohol dependence.

At the National Addiction Management Services (Nams) at the Institute of Mental Health, the number of new outpatients for alcohol addiction from the financial years of 2007 to 2010 has come up to about 1,200.

Experts said that the trend of binge drinking, especially among young people, is not unexpected.

Alcohol use is also perceived to be more acceptable than drug use.

Said Nams counsellor Angeline Voon: "Alcohol is widely available in Singapore and is used for celebrations and socialisation.

"Many may perceive alcohol to be a harmless product because it can be legally consumed and used in many social settings."

Psychiatrist Brian Yeo said that increasing affluence and independence among young people have also led to the trend.

He feels that Singapore's drinking laws are slacker than those in the US.

In Singapore, the legal age for drinking is 18, compared to 21 in the US.

'No stigma'

Added Dr Yeo: "There's no stigma if you drink. In fact, it's considered 'funny' if you don't drink."

Said Ms Voon: "The ability to hold one's liquor well may sometimes also be perceived as an elevation of one's status among the peer group, and this can contribute to binge drinking."

But while binge drinking is reaching US levels, alcohol abuse and dependence levels are still far behind.

About one out of six people in the US has a drinking problem.

The mental health survey found that a small percentage of Singaporeans develop alcohol problems, and it's more common among the young.

A paper published in Annals, the Academy of Medicine Singapore journal, based on findings from the survey, found that the prevalence of alcohol use disorders (that is, abuse and dependence) is about 1 in 20 in young adults as compared with about 1 in 30 in the general population.

The addiction study recommended a public health education programme on alcohol use.

There is also a call to set up a national body to tackle problem drinking.

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