Kicking alcohol can kill you: See a doctor

PHOTO: The Straits Times

If you are seriously addicted to alcohol and want to quit, see a doctor or a psychiatrist.

That's because quitting on your own can be deadly, according to Chi Yong, head of the alcoholism treatment unit at Beijing Anding Hospital. The hospital specializes in mental health.

Alcohol is addictive, but unlike many other addictive substances, such as most opioid drugs, it comes with potentially deadly consequences during withdrawal.

Withdrawal symptoms include fluttering in the chest and trembling. Severe episodes without timely medical intervention can lead to convulsions and even death.

There is also a mental component. Alcohol abuse, or alcohol use disorder, is a psychological condition in which a person continues to drink despite negative consequences.

The sufferer cannot overcome the urge to drink, which might occur anytime, not just at meals, Chi said.

"Public awareness has to be raised, given the worsening drinking problem in China," Chi said.

A death rate around 20 per cent is reported among patients who quit on their own and then develop serious alcohol withdrawal syndrome, Chi said, citing international studies.

Officially called the Psychosomatic Ward, his hospital unit was reopened after a six-year hiatus and now has 60 beds. It can receive diagnosed alcoholics, including Chinese patients and English-speaking foreigners, to help them survive withdrawal.

The annual number of patients treated for alcoholism at the facility has increased by a factor of five over the past decade, he said.

In China, nearly 7 per cent of men and around 0.2 per cent of women aged 15 and older suffer from alcohol abuse, according to the World Health Organisation in 2011. It kills 3.3 million people each year worldwide.

Alcohol also increases the risk of developing more than 200 diseases, including some cancers and mental disorders such as anxiety or depression.

Treatment for alcohol withdrawal at a hospital usually lasts two or three weeks.

A man surnamed Ma, who has suffered from alcoholism, said it's easy to relapse. "Lifelong interventions are needed to keep sober," Ma said.

He has participated in Alcoholics Anonymous, which was brought in to China in 2000 and now has around 3,000 members. Worldwide, AA has about 2 million members.

The programme uses peer support through regular group sharing in meetings and online. Participants share their personal stories of suffering with alcoholism and encourage others.

Ma had a 32-year drinking history that began at age 16. After undergoing treatment at Anding hospital, he joined AA and has been sober for 16 years.

"I used to have delusions and was rushed to emergency treatment several times," he said.

AA has provided relief. "We share experiences and give each other hope to overcome the dependence," he said. "It's complementary to professional treatment."

Over the years, the number of females in the AA programme has increased substantially, and they now account for about 20 per cent of the members, Ma said.

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