Alcohol a large growing problem in the region


Alcoholism is a serious public health issue in the Balkans and causes significant pressure to the health system, experts warn.

By Kruno Kartus for Southeast European Times in Osijek -- 19/08/13


Alcoholism in the region is a strain to the health system and leads to thousands of premature deaths each year, experts say. [Nikola Barbutov/SETimes]

Overconsumption of alcohol in Europe causes 1 in 7 deaths in men ages 15 to 64 and 1 in 13 deaths in women, according to the World Health Organisation.

According to a recent report, people in the EU drink 10.2 litres of alcohol per year, while the average in Serbia is even higher, 11 litres per inhabitant annually. Experts in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) warn that consumption in that country ranges from 9.6 to 40 litres, as there is no solid data. Macedonia treats only one tenth of its addicts.

In Croatian hospitals, mental disorders leads in the number and length of hospitalisations due to alcohol. In 2012, a total of 7,541 hospitalisations for mental disorders were registered that used a total of 173,704 days of hospital treatment.

"Croatia has a well-developed network of hospitals that provide treatment for people addicted to alcohol and those who because of that have health consequences. A network of activities for outpatient mental health and addiction treatment has developed intensively in the public health institutes in recent years. In the next period it should focus its development on prevention and combating alcoholism, especially among young people," the Croatian Institute for Public Health said in a statement to SETimes.

The World Health Organisation estimates that the average adult in BiH drinks 9.6 litres of alchohol per year, but local officials estimate much higher, 40 litres, because the WHO estimates don't include consumption of homegrown or privately-made alcohol.

There is no hospital in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina that specialises in the treatment of addicts.

"All addicts are treated in outpatient clinics and daily treatment. Throughout BiH the only option for hospital treatment for alcoholism is at the Department of Psychiatry, Clinical Center of Banja Luka, but the problem is that they can only treat patients from Republika Sprksa," Dr. Nermana Mehić-Basara, psychiatrist and director of the Institute of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse in Sarajevo, told SETimes.

In Serbia, a survey conducted by Dr. Milan Jovanovic Batut of the Belgrade Public Health Institute on alcohol consumption among youth shows that as many as 25 percent of high school students regularly consume alcohol as well as tobacco and narcotics.

Although selling and serving alcoholic beverages to minors in Serbia is prohibited by law, the survey revealed that the majority of minors have no trouble obtaining alcohol.

Another survey conducted by the institute showed that 40.3 percent of the Serbian population consumes alcohol daily. Out of that number, 3.9 percent are at a high risk of contracting a long-term severe illness.

Milenko Savic of the Association of Recovered Alcoholics' Clubs in Serbia said he believes that the primary problem in Serbia is the attitude toward alcohol, wherein excessive drinking is perceived as acceptable behavior.

"Getting drunk is considered normal here. A drunken person is often viewed positively, and that is the problem. The youth are following that example and drinking more, and more often," Savic told SETimes.

Macedonian authorities estimate there are as many as 80,000 alcoholics in the country, with about 600 receiving treatment each year, said Dr. Pavlina Vaskova, national co-ordinator of the National Council for the Fight Against Alcoholism.

Treatment is also performed through the civil associations, such as the Association of Clubs of Treated Alcoholics, where thousands of alcoholics have participated, as well as members of families.

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A separate advisory office works within this association and maintains an open telephone line and assistance for families who have problems caused by alcoholism.

"The basic purpose of the clubs is to maintain the established abstinence and to prevent the recidivists," Vaskova said.

Correspondents Ana Lovaković in Sarajevo, Bojana Milovanović in Belgrade and Marina Stojanovska in Skopje contributed to this report.

How has alcoholism affected your life or the life of your family? Share your stories in the comments.

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