Alcoholism in Lithuania and many of its eastern European neighbors is a major concern. The Lithuanian government and various organizations, including SOS Children Villages Lithuania, are stepping in to determine how to help people in Lithuania and how to protect those that are most vulnerable to the effects of alcohol abuse.

In June of this year, the Lithuanian government announced that it will implement new, highly prohibitive alcohol laws in 2018. This announcement was made after the World Health Organization published a report that named Lithuania as the heaviest drinking country in the world in 2016.

Though this is Lithuania’s first year to top the list, its severe drinking problems are hardly new, and the details of this decades-long problem are shocking:

  • In 2013, UNICEF’s Innocenti Report Card 11 found that 27 percent of children between the age of 11 and 15 had been drunk at least twice. This was the highest measured rate in Europe that year.
  • In 2014, nearly one-quarter of women in the country engaged in binge drinking, more than women in any other country.
  • In 2014, it was found that nearly 10 percent of Lithuania’s population suffered from an alcohol use disorder, among the highest out of all nations reviewed.

Why is alcohol abuse so rampant in Lithuania and other eastern European countries? Analysts offer myriad reasons that vary depending on the particular country in question, but some of the most frequently cited answers relate to high unemployment rates, the societal legacy of Soviet control, poor mental health care and a lack of information and public policy regarding alcohol.

One source reported that currently, eight of the nations with the highest levels of consumption do not have public policy initiatives that address the effects of alcohol consumption on the general public. This lack of public information exacerbates the danger of this situation to women and children. Alcohol use among women in Lithuania and other eastern European countries has been increasing steadily, and women in these countries may not be aware of the dangers of drinking during pregnancy. Experts therefore assert that an essential tenet of answering the question of how to help people in Lithuania is simply to make them more aware of the health effects of drinking.

The effects of alcoholism in Lithuania extend to children. Research shows that children whose parents have an alcohol problem suffer an increased likelihood of several violent and troubling scenarios, are six times more likely to suffer domestic violence and three times more likely to have suicidal thoughts. Furthermore, in June 2016, 20,000 Lithuanian children were found to be living in conditions of “social risk”, which the Lithuanian government defines as a household situation in which the parents have problems concerning alcohol abuse, poverty,or domestic violence. A significant number of these children were removed from their parents’ care and placed in institutional alternatives.

The question of how to help people in Lithuania is as complex and multivariable as its catalysts. The Lithuanian government’s upcoming prohibitive measures indicate policymakers’ dedication to engendering large-scale societal change, but it will take time for Lithuanians to wholly shift their attitudes and habits of alcohol dependency and abuse. In the meantime, there are tens of thousands of Lithuanian children and millions more across eastern Europe that currently live in endangered situations or institutional care due to parental abuse of alcohol.

Recognizing the need for increased child protection and better solutions, the organization SOS Children Villages Lithuania has developed an EEA grants funded project entitled “Sustained Transition from Institutional Care to Family-Based and Community-Based Alternatives”. The goal of this project is to determine the best environment and means of caring for children that have been removed from dangerous situations through comparative studies. SOS Children Villages Lithuania is dedicated to advocating for and stepping in to protect children in Lithuania as the country works to lessen its rates of alcoholism.

Savannah Bequeaith

Photo: Flickr

alcohol abuse
Alcohol abuse is a global phenomenon. Alcoholic preferences vary across the globe — vodka is widely considered Russia’s drink of choice, while beer tends to be America’s favorite — but there is something most nations have in common, save many countries in the Middle East where alcohol is strictly forbidden. That is the existence of alcohol related disorders. One of the countries with the highest prevalence is Uganda.

On average, according to data based on official records and representative surveys accumulated in the World Health Organization’s 2014 Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health, Ugandan drinkers drink 23.7 liters of pure alcohol a year per capita. Males typically consume 25.6 liters while females drink 19.6 liters. American drinkers, in comparison, drink 13.3 liters. As a consequence of what’s often excessive drinking in Uganda, 10 percent of males and 1.5 percent of females have an alcohol related disorder. That’s about three in every 50 people.

The high statistics are in part due to alcoholic beverages particular to the region. Many African countries produce their alcohol locally from sorghum, millet and other agricultural products. The alcoholic beverages industrialized countries are fond of, such as beer and vodka, may be scarce in Uganda, but this is no remedy for abuse.

The consequences of alcohol abuse are relentless and strongly correlate with poverty. One must factor not only the money spent on alcohol, but also the low wages and lost employment opportunities due to missed work and decreased efficiency, and the high medical expenses following alcohol-inspired illness — that is, if one is lucky enough to receive legitimate treatment at all. Otherwise, death is the harsh but likely consequence.

Many of the worst alcohol-related illnesses are neurological. One common neurological disease, called Central pontine myelinolysis (also called Osmotic demyelination syndrome,) is characterized by severe damage to the myelin sheath, a protective insulator coating nerve cells that is essential for the nervous system to function properly. This results in difficulty moving (paralysis,) swallowing (dysphagia) and speaking (dysarthria.)

Another area of the brain that is seriously affected by Central pontine myelinolysis is the pons, a small (about 2.5 centimeters) part of the brain stem. Its job is to relay messages from the forebrain, including the cerebral cortex and the limbic system, to the cerebellum. It is also associated with autonomic functions such as with sleep, respiration, swallowing, bladder control, hearing, equilibrium, taste, eye movement, facial expressions, facial sensation and posture.

Damage to the pons affects these automatic functions, making them more difficult for your body to control and produce. This severe consequence of alcohol abuse effectively renders the drinker useless in a developing society. He or she requires medical assistance and constant attention, which drains resources that may not be readily available in places like rural Uganda. Excessive drinking, in this way, is a neurologic roadblock to poverty reduction.

Alcohol, however, not only prolongs poverty but is also promoted by it. Impoverished people without hope for an economic upturn are more likely to spend their money on whimsical, instant pleasures like alcohol and drugs than on investments for a future they don’t think exists. This is why education and hope-giving humanitarian projects are so crucial to long-term development.

– Adam Kaminski 

Sources: WHO, MedlinePlus
Photo: The Promota

alcohol abuse
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that one in ten deaths of American adults are the result of excessive alcohol use. However, alcohol abuse is not just a problem for the United States. In the developing world, where “excess” is often uncommon, alcohol abuse is steadily increasing, along with the health problems associated with it.

According to the World Health Organization, worldwide, there were 3.3 million deaths caused by alcohol, in 2012. Alcohol abuse also has consequences reaching far beyond the immediate effects of intoxication (like “violence and injuries” often related to impaired judgment, risky sexual behaviors, birth defects, and miscarriages in pregnant women).

The WHO states that excessive alcohol use “can not only lead to dependence, but also increases people’s risk of developing more than 200 diseases, including liver cirrhosis and some cancers.” The CDC notes that mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon, and breast cancer can all develop from alcohol abuse, as well as gastrointestinal issues like pancreatitis and gastritis. Alarmingly, alcohol can also impair one’s immune system, making people “more susceptible to infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and pneumonia.”

The prevalence of heavy drinking has skyrocketed in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, where the urban populations have increased dramatically in recent decades. Often, difficult social and economic issues (such as “poverty and dependence on a cash economy” and “high levels of violence”) cause people to begin abusing alcohol, and other illicit substances. The WHO reports that 77 percent of impoverished children in Brazil abuse alcohol.

Substance abuse is often used as a solution to “alleviate emotional stress.” This stress can be a result of poverty, which includes “unemployment, low education and deprivation.” This “self-medication” has dangerous consequences, as up to 16 percent of the burden of disease can be attributed to alcohol use.

A report by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine examined the relationship between alcohol use and mental health, in developing countries. The report included the find that, typically, binge drinking among men is considered more socially acceptable than binge drinking among women, and it can even be considered a sign of maturity. As a result, alcohol dependence is far more common in men.

The report also found that there was a clear correlation between “hazardous drinking” and “common mental disorders,” like depression or anxiety disorders. Furthermore, studies in Eastern Europe, Chile, and Ethiopia showed a connection between alcohol use and suicide rates. The report provided explanations for this relationship, stating “alcohol may disinhibit suicidal impulses.” Conversely, “chronic and heavy alcohol use may lead to a gradual disintegration of the person’s social life, depression, and, thus, an elevated risk of suicide.”

The WHO suggests “major efforts” in order to prevent alcohol dependence from developing. The people of the organization suggest establishing community-based programs to identify “hazardous use” and perform interventions. The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine proposes a different strategy: raising alcohol taxes based on “the level of alcohol content in a given beverage,” which would likely reduce the consumption of hard liquor. Combining these suggested tactics could help reduce the prevalence of alcohol-related disease and deaths.

– Bridget Tobin 

Sources: London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, WHO 1, WHO 2, USA Today, CDC
Photo: Flickr