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Drinking on the rise.

Byline: Leo Leonidou

ALCOHOLISM is on the rise in Cyprus, primarily among British and other expatriates who have moved to the island. Most at risk are retirees who struggle to fill their time, who can afford the cheap alcohol here even on meagre pensions and whose health may not be so robust in the first place.

"There is no medical answer or cure for alcoholism. It is a progressive disease which has a downhill spiral," said John (not his real name), a spokesman for the Paphos Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) group. He told the Sunday Mail that in recent years the group has become better-known across the island in Nicosia, Limassol, Larnaca, Ayia Napa and Paphos.

"Our group in Paphos has been operating for 10 to 12 years now and has grown in size since the start," he said.

"It can now consist of up to 20 people, and this is a far cry from when we started, when we would only get around two or three."

Those figures might not appear alarming. but it is a well-known fact that the majority of people with drinking problems do not seek help from the AA, either because they are in denial or they too embarrassed to "come out", especially in such a small community. The real problem is likely to be far bigger, experts say.

John said that the majority of people at the AA meetings are British expatriates who are retired and have time and money on their hands.

"These are not the only factors but certainly contribute," he explained.

Other AA groups in Nicosia and Limassol, for example, feature more eastern Europeans, he said.

"Our programme involves certain suggestive steps and nothing is forced. If somebody really wants to address and overcome their problems we can help."

"The medical profession admits that it can help during an acute crisis or period of detoxification but there is no answer," he said. "The key is to attend meetings and become involved in our recovery programme, with our series of steps designed to bring about a realignment of personality."

The Paphos group has a fairly steady group of regular members.

"On the whole, if somebody has a real desire to live a life of sobriety, we can help," John said.

Although the disease is far more common among certain sections of the foreign residents of Cyprus, there are signs that alcohol consumption is increasing among Cypriots too.

"We have raised our children with the idea that if you drink alcohol, you have a good time and have all seen our parents enjoying themselves with a glass of wine in their hands," said Eftehia Demetriou, the Prevention Coordinator at KENTHEA, the Centre for Drug Education and Treatment of Drug Addicts.

This traditional view of drinking as a way of complementing food in a social setting is changing, however.

"Instead of drinking with a meal, people now binge on alcoholic drinks, which are far stronger than they used to be," she said.

"The seriousness of the issue in Cyprus is a taboo subject among the authorities, who do not want to admit that there is a problem and people themselves do not realise the dangers."

John of the Paphos AA said Cypriots do attend the English-language meetings, but they are a fairly low percentage.

The Therapeutic Community for Addicted Individuals (THEMEA) has been helping people in need since 1991, under the auspices of the Health Ministry.

Clinical psychologist Costas Constantinou said it provides services including detoxification, help with psychological dependence and rehabilitation and social reintegration.

"There is a problem, but we don't want to exaggerate it," he said.

A spokesman for the Ministry was more forthcoming with his views. "Lives and families are being destroyed by alcohol and I urge people to seek help before it's too late and alcohol takes a hold over them," said the man, who wished to remain anonymous.

Antonis Raftis is a doctor, sociologist and psychologist. He explained that he has noticed an increase in alcohol consumption on the island in recent years. "Alcohol is so easily available these days and more and more people believe that part of going out and enjoying yourself includes alcohol."

But he said Cypriots on the whole still remain mostly social drinkers.

"In my experience, it's people from cold weather countries such as the UK, Russia, Poland and Scandinavia who are the habitual drinkers and have a culture of drinking," he said.

President of the Cyprus Sociological Association Nicos Peristianis agreed. "Traditionally, there has never been a great problem as far as drinking on the island is concerned," he said. "Usually, drink is accompanied by food and this is part of a much larger ritual for improving friendship and communication."

He described this as very different to the British habit of drinking on an empty stomach. "Logically, young Cypriots are changing their traditional values, to some extent. Many have studied abroad and have got used to pubs. But very few Cypriots will drink with the sole aim of getting drunk. They generally want to be in control of themselves and are unused to the idea of letting go."

What is alcoholism?

Alcoholism is a term with multiple and sometimes conflicting definitions.

In common and historic usage, alcoholism refers to any condition that results in the continued consumption of alcoholic beverages despite the health problems and negative social consequences it causes.

Alcoholism may also refer to a preoccupation with or compulsion toward the consumption of alcohol and/or an impaired ability to recognise the negative effects of excessive alcohol consumption.

While the ingestion of alcohol is, by definition, necessary to develop alcoholism, the use of alcohol does not predict the development of alcoholism.

The quantity, frequency and regularity of alcohol consumption required to develop alcoholism varies greatly from person to person. In addition, although the biological mechanisms underpinning alcoholism are uncertain, some risk factors, including social environment, emotional health and genetic predisposition, have been identified.

Copyright [c] Cyprus Mail 2008

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Publication:Cyprus Mail (Cyprus)
Date:May 11, 2008
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