2006-10-13 Daniela Lazarova
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"Na zdravi!" is too common a phrase amongst women in the Czech Republic as alcoholism soars

In the Czech Republic doctors are ringing the alarm: the number of women alcoholics in the country has been increasing sharply. In fact in 2005 the number of women who entered Czech clinics with an alcohol abuse problem was twice as high as a decade previously. What’s more, medical studies reveal that the increase of problem drinking in the female population is much sharper than that among males. But what has about this worrying change? Radio Prague’s Daniela Lazarova reports.

Last week a woman judge was dismissed from her post for not turning up to preside over an important court hearing. She was found in a drunken stupor in an entirely different courtroom. She is one of a growing number of Czech women who turned to alcohol as a means of escape from personal problems. A study just published by the Bohnice Clinic for Alcohol Abuse says the trend of alcohol abuse among women, which dates back to the 1970s, has risen sharply in the past 10 years, presenting a serious threat to women's health.

"Earlier it was very rare to see women consuming alcohol -for example drinking beer. Now it is very common especially among the younger generation, let's say people below the age of 30. The social norms which prevented women from drinking in public are no longer there. Society has accepted the fact that women drink and as a result women drink more frequently than in the past and they drink larger amounts of alcohol. But we have to keep in mind that the effects of alcohol are much more powerful in a woman's body."

Dr. Csemy says the pattern in female alcohol abuse is the same: social drinking turns into secret drinking when women feel they are unable to cope with life's demands and problems. Two glasses of wine in the evening to sooth one's nerves are replaced by a shot of vodka - and soon by several glasses. However - due to their body structure - women are far more at risk than men. The alcohol in their body does more harm sooner and they become dependent at a much earlier stage.

The growing problem of alcohol abuse among women dates back to the early 1970s and mirrors the situation elsewhere in Europe. Yet unlike other European states the Czech Republic has yet to acknowledge the problem and focus on prevention rather than consequences. Dr. Csemy again.

"Alcohol dependence and drug dependence is heavily influenced by genetic factors but whether you become an abuser is largely dependant on the environment you live in, so if we want to apply preventive measures we need to influence the behavior and attitudes of people. In the whole of Europe there is a rather effective program called Alcohol Action Plan and in the framework of this program, which is focused on the community and population level, some countries have succeeded in reducing alcohol consumption and alcohol related problems -especially France and Italy. Unfortunately the Czech Republic is not among those successful countries and the main causes are lack of experienced professionals in the field of prevention and lack of financial sources for preventive measures. So unfortunately, what we are doing in the Czech Republic is that we are treating the adverse consequences of heavy and unhealthy drinking habits."

Although the Bohnice clinic does excellent work in helping alcoholics Dr. Csemy says that people should seek help much earlier. The clinic is now trying to establish a prevention program together with GPs who should be the first to spot a problem and advise their patients to get help. However in many cases the stigma attached to alcoholics makes people deny there's anything wrong.

"There is no stigma attached to being a diabetic or even a psychiatric patient suffering from depression. However problems with drugs or alcohol abuse are viewed by society as a flaw of personality or character, so the stigma attached to these problems is very strong and it is one of the barriers which stands in the way to seeking an early cure."

As doctor Csemy says the medical treatment of alcoholics takes several months but the healing process generally takes years. In this the clinic is happy to cooperate with Alcoholics Anonymous, an NGO which found its way to the Czech Republic in 1990.

"Alcoholics Anonymous is very active in this country. They have help groups and meetings not just in Prague but in other Czech towns and cities and I would say that the work of this NGO is very effective. Unfortunately we have only a small number of such organizations and what we would need is more organizations which would be concerned about the very high level of per capita alcohol consumption in our country. Such an influence is missing in Czech society which is very liberal towards alcohol consumption and which accepts drinking - and even excessive drinking - as the norm."

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