Alcohol is widespread and accepted in our society. It is true that alcohol in small quantities can brighten the mood and thus be perceived as pleasant. But alcohol consumption can be addictive and harmful to health. According to the 'Jahrbuch der Deutschen Hauptstelle für Suchtfragen' (2013), Germany is one of the countries with the highest per capita consumption in Europe. Germans consumed an average of 9.7 litres of pure alcohol in 2013. The health consequences are enormous: every year thousands of people die from diseases directly or indirectly related to alcohol consumption, about 1.61 million people in Germany are acutely alcohol-dependent, 1.77 million regularly abuse alcohol.
An expert interview on the subject of alcohol addiction can be found in the lower section.
Symptoms and signs of alcohol addiction
- Regular alcohol consumption.
- Habit forming: the beer after work is indispensable.
- Strong urge for alcohol consumption.
- Loss of control: to quit drinking becomes increasingly difficult.
- Social activities or duties are neglected to drink alcohol.
- Physical withdrawal symptoms: shaking hands, sweating, restlessness when alcohol is not consumed.
- Familiarisation effect: larger quantities of alcohol are better tolerated than before; the same alcohol-related effect can only be achieved with ever-increasing quantities.
- Health-related or interpersonal problems.
Measures for critical alcohol consumption or an incipient dependency
- Do not drink alcohol every day, but use other drinks such as tea, water or juice.
- For a while, avoid alcohol: if abstinence from alcohol succeeds without problems, there is no danger, the more difficult the abstinence is, the more the habituation effect has already occurred.
- Visit of a self-help group: There are thousands of such groups in Germany, whose goal is it to exchange over alcohol problems and to overcome or prevent so alcohol addictions.
- Even if it takes some effort: talk to your primary care physician about your alcohol problems.
- Go to a counselling centre such as the Addiction Counselling Centre
Counselling and therapy options
- Therapies in counselling and treatment facilities such as Caritas Passau: this is where decisions are made as to which measures can be taken.
- Withdrawal treatment in hospitals
- Outpatient weaning therapies
- Aftercare following inpatient or outpatient treatment by relatives
- Addiction support groups
- Online trainings like at studicare
probability of alcohol abuse among Passau students is above the national average.
Accordingly, 29% of those surveyed (study participants: 3555) stated that they had already felt the need to reduce their alcohol consumption. And 28% had the impression that they were drinking too much. 25.4% of those questioned had a probability of alcohol abuse of at least 89%, with 20.2% for women and 34.4% for men.
Excessive alcohol consumption is dangerous and can lead to alcohol poisoning and other harm. If you are travelling with people who are very drunk and may therefore be suspected of alcohol poisoning, do not let them out of your sight. In an emergency, a direct route to the hospital in Passau is recommended. On ward 43, the ward for emergency admissions, you will be informed about the next steps. Bring your medical record with you and register yourself or the patient at the gate. Address: Klinikum Passau, Innstrasse 76, +49 851 53000. Telefonnummer Notarzt: 112.
Julius Krieg is head of psychosocial counselling and treatment at Caritas Passau. In an interview with the counselling centre, the 63-year-old talks about his experiences in dealing with alcoholics, how vulnerable students are and how one can recognise an incipient alcohol addiction in oneself and others.
Counselling centre: what is the proportion of alcohol addicts in the Caritas addiction counselling centre and what addictions are still treated there?
Julius Krieg: we look after about 800 clients a year. About half of them come to us because of an alcohol problem. This shows how widespread the legal drug alcohol is. This can also be seen in the fact that the treatment of people with problems with illegal drugs accounts for only about 25%. In addition, there are people with eating disorders or general psychological problems. But we also advise relatives of addicts.
Do a lot of students come to you with an alcohol problem?
This is difficult to say because we do not have any figures to that effect. This is also due to the fact that students who have alcohol problems usually do not become conspicuous so quickly, but only when he or she, for example, breaks off their studies. Alcohol problems often take place in secret for many of those affected. Because alcoholics are often supported by the system. If, for example, a student goes to his lectures and passes all exams, then he is not attracting attention and the alcohol addiction is not yet conspicuous. In your professional life, for example in the office, the smell of alcohol is more conspicuous.
According to a study by the University of Passau, students in Passau are more likely to abuse alcohol than the national average – a common habit among students?
I know that many students drink a little bit too much. There is always a high number of unreported cases of alcohol abuse in particular. Many people have an alcohol problem and drink too much, but do not stand out in any way, as in the example with the student. Because alcohol is established and tolerated in our society, we do not recognise many alcoholics at first. This is similar for students.
To what extent are students at risk of becoming alcoholics?
Nobody is born addicted. It is mainly a result of the environment. This can also easily happen with students. Because they can go to an environment where people like to party and alcohol is abundantly available. It used to be the same with students back in the day, except today illegal drugs are added. I believe that many students are under pressure to perform, which they try to compensate with drugs. There are students who can only complete their studies with the help of drugs. I get the impression that not all students drink, but there are always some – 'the hard core'. Students used to like to drink and they still do today. Since alcohol affects all aspects of society, students are just as vulnerable as other demographics.
What are the typical consequences of alcohol addiction?
Initially, a distinction must be made between psychological and physical alcohol dependence. It starts with psychological addiction, the irresistible desire for alcohol. At first people are not prepared to admit it. For example, it may start with a quick drink after work: when I already start thinking at three in the afternoon about when I can finally drink my first beer? The psychological dependence is not noticeable at first. This psychological dependence evolves into physical dependence. In the morning you feel bad and need alcohol to get it together – these two factors provide an overall picture of alcohol addiction. It can take years to develop.
What is the difficult part of treating people with alcohol problems?
You have to motivate people to fight the disease. Most of our clients come to the counselling centre because they are referred by their physician, judge or partner, in other words, because they are forced to. It is important to motivate people to find their own solutions. Then it is also important to first determine the diagnosis of alcoholism and to confront the clients with it.
How do you recognise the onset of alcohol addiction?
When you have an irresistible desire for alcohol. If you decide not to drink and then drink anyway, because you start trembling in the afternoon, because you need alcohol.
How do you prevent it?
Alcohol dependence has to do with consumption. Controlled drinking is important. If you consume alcohol cautiously, the probability of becoming addicted to alcohol is relatively low. In other words, if you only drink a certain amount in a specified period. For example, it would be a good idea not to drink alcohol at all three times a week and then only 40 grams, i.e. about one and a half beers. I am not someone who thinks that alcohol should be banned, but it must be consumed in moderation.
What should be considered after parties, where too much alcohol was consumed?
If you drink too much once in a while, for example at the weekend, it is important for the body to have a longer recovery period, i.e. not to drink for about three weeks afterwards. Because alcohol is a massive poison. If the poison is taken in moderation and the body can recover, then it is still manageable and can be tolerated.
What can I do if I am worried about someone who drinks too much alcohol?
I recommend to talk to them privately and to say very clearly, 'Listen, I think you have an alcohol problem because ...' You should justify it with the things you have observed directly and say that you cannot help the person, but you know where they can get professional help. This may stir the person up a bit, because the conversation is probably unpleasant. After that you should always stay on top of it and ask if the person was already there to get help. It is not a disgrace to be alcoholic, but rather when nothing is done about it.
Thank you very much for the interview!
- Deutsche Hauptstelle für Suchtfragen e.V. (2016): Alcohol. Basic information. 13th edition. Hamm: DHS.
- Deutsche Hauptstelle für Suchtfragen e.V. (2016): Alcohol is dangerous. An easy to read booklet. 2nd edition. Hamm: DHS.