Increasing number of daily drinkers in Belgium


The number of daily alcohol drinkers in Belgium is rising sharply: from 8 to 12.4 percent between 1997 and 2001. “It’s no drama”, says Dr. Stan Ansoms, who treats alcoholics, “the underlying alcohol consumption is decreasing, and as long as its evenly distributed, I wouldn’t call it a cause for alarm.”

The National Institute for Statistics (NIS) published the figures of a health survey carried out by the Wetenschappelijk Instituut Volksgezondheid. In 2001 it probed 9 290 Belgians regarding their alcohol consumption. The findings were brought out with a similar study in 1997.

We showed the results to Dr. Stan Ansoms, head of addiction counselling with the Alexian Brothers in Tienen and chair of the Association for Alcohol and Other Drug Problems (Vereniging voor Alcohol- en andere Drugsproblemen (VAD)).

The number of daily alcohol drinkers up from 8 to 12.4 percent

That may seem a lot, but I wouldn’t call it alarming. The underlying alcohol consumption has fallen by fifteen percent. That’s a positive trend. If the daily drinkers drink one or two glasses each day, then they don’t have a problem. I see it as a shift towards the drinking habits of wine-producing countries such as France.

Men still bigger drinkers than women

That’s traditional. But the difference is becoming smaller. Just as with other social phenomena, women are now catching up with the men. 25 years ago you’d have one alcoholic women to every nine men. Now one in three alcoholics is a woman.

Despite recent panicky reports, teenagers and young adults between 15 and 34 do not seem to be drinking more regularly

I’d be cautious there. The alcopops are quite a problem. Admittedly, young people drink maybe once a week – the night they go out – but they often get very intoxicated. The risk of alcohol poisoning and traffic accidents is always just around the corner. They’re also starting to drink at an earlier age.

The over-55s are the biggest group of problem drinkers, and the over-65s are the biggest daily drinkers

Campaigns quite rightly concentrate on prevention among the young, but we may have neglected the older groups. It would be a good idea to launch campaigns for the different age groups around alcohol, combined with the use of drugs and medicines.

The lower and higher educated drink more often than the middle group

I see the opposite in the addiction centre. That’s where I get to see the middle group. The lower educated are simply less inclined to seek help. The higher educated put up more rational resistance.

The number of problem drinkers stands at 6.8 percent. The NIS is unable to make a comparison with 1997 because no other questions were asked at the time. However, it appears that 9.1 percent drank six glasses once a week or more in 1997. What do you think?

The figure is correct. I calculate 3 percent of alcoholics and 15 percent of risk drinkers. These are the heavy regular drinkers who consume more than five units per day and those who drink because of personal difficulties. I would set my percentage of problem drinkers somewhat higher.

Source: De Standaard, 28/02/2003, Tom Ysebaert


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