Doctors issue drink warning ahead of annual party season

By Lin Hsiang-mei and Stacy Hsu  /  Staff reporter, with Staff writer

Sat, Dec 08, 2012 - Page 3

With the year-end banquet season around the corner, doctors are urging people to be careful about their alcohol consumption and avoid risky drinking to minimize the chances of falling prey to alcoholism and alcohol-related illness.

Hazardous drinking is defined by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism as consuming five drinks per day for men and four drinks a day for women.

The definition of what constitutes an alcoholic drink varies by country, with a drink categorized as an alcoholic beverage if it contains at least 14g of ethanol in the US, but in Taiwan it is any beverage containing 10g of ethanol.

Thus, drinking five 350ml cans of beer, a 600ml bottle of red wine or a 200ml glass of whisky per day amounts to risky drinking for Taiwanese men, said Huang Ming-chi (黃名琪), a psychiatrist at Taipei City Hospital’s Songde branch, urging people to assess their drinking behavior using these criteria.

“People who practice hazardous drinking are more prone to develop alcoholism, particularly women, who tend to get addicted to alcohol faster than men ... and should be more abstemious in their drinking,” Huang said.

However, Huang said the criteria for risky drinking are not absolute predictors for the risk of developing alcohol dependence, which occurs through a gradual process in which a person habitually drinks heavily on a daily basis for five to 10 years.

People who occasionally binge drink may have better alcohol tolerance, Huang said, but such behavior could result in the drinker lowering their guard and binge drinking on a regular basis.

“People shun high-fat foods to avoid metabolic syndrome, a notion that could also be applied to the prevention of alcoholism by avoiding hazardous drinking patterns,” Huang said.

Saying alcohol consumption can easily spiral out of control, Huang cautioned people to pay special attention to the adverse effects of alcohol.

About 70 percent of alcoholics do not realize they are addicted to alcohol and are mostly forced to seek medical assistance only after exhibiting violent behavior, attempting suicide or being caught drunk driving, Huang said.

Huang said that in addition to causing mental disorders, heavy episodic drinking could also damage internal organs or result in injuries from drunk-driving accidents.

Alcoholics who give up alcohol can suffer various withdrawal symptoms, including insomnia, depression, anxiety, sweating and tremors, Huang said.

He urged people to reduce their alcohol consumption to a low-risk level, defined as drinking less than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women.