Alcohol abuse worse among younger people in Singapore

Alcohol abuse worse among younger people in Singapore

SINGAPORE - The young man woke up in his bed one morning to find himself surrounded by chocolates.

He had blacked out after a night of heavy drinking and had no recollection of how he had got home with his bounty.

The young man, who does not even like chocolates, suspected that he might have stolen them and was lucky not to have been caught.

Mr Lawrence Tan, a psychologist, related this anecdote to show how excessive drinking can lead to individuals committing a crime without being aware of it.

He told The New Paper: "I work with people as young as 17 who have trouble with alcohol, and this can lead to other problematic behaviours."

Dr Reina Lim, a consultant at Singapore General Hospital's Department of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, said people here have shown a growing interest in alcohol as Singapore becomes more prosperous.

"The per capital alcohol consumption in Singapore has nearly trebled from 2005 to 2015. It is estimated that at least 4.3 per cent of males and 0.8 per cent of females regularly drink alcohol, which is more than four times a week," he added.

A study released in 2016 estimated the prevalence of binge drinking in Singapore to be 9.6 per cent of the population.

Dr Lim said: "Binge drinking is harmful. It is commonly defined as consuming five or more standard drinks in males (and four or more in females) in a single occasion."


Last month, the World Health Organisation said that alcohol kills three million people worldwide every year, with men particularly at risk.

In its latest report on alcohol and health, the United Nations agency noted that alcohol causes more than one in 20 deaths globally each year, including from drink-driving accidents, alcohol-induced violence and illnesses such as liver cirrhosis and some cancers.

The report also found that alcohol abuse makes people more susceptible to contagious illnesses such as pneumonia and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).


The Institute of Mental Health (IMH) told TNP that a nationwide Singapore Mental Health Study in 2010 found that one in 32 Singaporeans aged 18 and above suffered from alcohol abuse.

The problem is even more prevalent among young adults, with one in 19 of those aged 18 to 34 suffering from alcohol use disorders, abuse and dependence.

"The odds of alcohol use disorders in the 18 to 34 age group was twice that of older age groups above 35," said IMH.

Alcohol abuse among the young can also cause long-term repercussions, experts said.

Graphic: The Straits Times

Mr Tan said an example is how alcohol affects the part of the brain that governs decision making and impulse control, which becomes fully developed only after a person turns 25.

He said young drinkers are, therefore, more likely to become addicted and be more susceptible to other types of addiction.

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Mr Tan and Ms Evonne Lek, a family therapist, also noted that binge drinking and alcohol abuse among young people often go unnoticed, as it has become almost normal behaviour.

They warn that binge drinking can often lead to dangerous social and psychological impacts, given the violent or depressive behaviours associated with heavy drinkers.

Ms Lek said it could destroy families if the abuser develops other abusive behaviours and does not seek help in time.

The IMH study estimated that 96.2 per cent alcohol abusers were not seeking help.

Sharing a story about one of her clients, Ms Lek said by the time he sought help, his family had left him.

He was unable to reunite with them or have unsupervised visits with his children because of his record of alcohol-fuelled abuse.

Dr Lim said that while some studies have shown light-to-moderate alcohol intake can benefit the heart, a consensus has not been reached.

"In my expert opinion, when it comes to alcohol, the key is moderation," he said.

"Certainly, you don't have to drink any alcohol. If you currently don't drink, don't start drinking for the possible health benefits.

"And if you are already drinking alcohol regularly, keep it within the safe limits."

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This article was first published in The New Paper. Permission required for reproduction.

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