With economic growth and increased globalisation, alcohol consumption generally increases as it gets more affordable and popular as a drink for celebratory or social occasions, and even for stress-relief. This same trend has been observed in Singapore – where the per capita alcohol consumption in Singapore has nearly trebled from 2005 to 2015, and a study released in 2016 estimated the prevalence of binge drinking in Singapore to be 9.6 per cent of the population. Among young adults in the recent decade or so, the number of alcohol-related incidents including verbal abuse, physical abuse, domestic violence, as well as property damage and vandalism have also increased. According to the Institute of Mental Health, a nation-wide study in 2010 found that one in 19 of those aged 18 to 34 struggle with alcohol dependence, abuse and disorders. The study also highlighted that the chances of alcohol-use disorders in this age group were twice that of age groups above 35. In this article, we will thus explore why drinking is becoming more prevalent, and the types of alcohol-related harm that young adults are increasingly vulnerable to.
For sure, individuals don’t become an alcohol addict overnight – they usually start with binge drinking, which is the worrying trend among young adults. Binge drinking is defined as the heavy consumption of alcohol within a short span of time with the intention of being inebriated. Binge drinking can be classified under mainly two categories: extensive drinking on a single occasion, or continuous drinking over days or weeks. It isn’t a rare sight to see youths gathering on a Friday night or weekends to go clubbing – places where most drinks have high alcohol content. Even with the COVID19 pandemic at present, young adults can still be seen to gather in small groups to drink and socialise. As a matter of fact, more people have turned to drinking in order to cope with the COVID19 situation. On a global scale, studies have shown that alcohol sales and consumption has risen. As an example, according to a recent study conducted by the USA Nielsen Company, there has been a 240% increase in internet alcohol sales, including hard liquor. Needless to say, it is not surprising that more Singaporeans would pick up drinking in order to cope with their unpleasant emotions and distress as well.
Frequent binge drinking may lead to alcohol dependence or addiction, especially when these individuals start consuming larger amounts of alcohol in order to obtain the same “high”. So why are more young adults exposed to alcohol drinking? Firstly, Singapore’s progress and prosperity have brought about lifestyle changes of youths and young adults compared to their parents’ generation. The increasing independence and thrill-seeking behaviours of these younger people might also include experimenting with alcohol. Secondly, globalisation has undermined many of the traditional controls on alcohol, making it widely available and aggressively marketed and promoted throughout society.
People who begin drinking early in life run the risk of developing serious alcohol problems, including alcoholism, later in life. They also are at greater risk for a variety of adverse consequences and poor performance in school or at work.
Overall, alcohol-related harm doesn’t merely include alcohol poisoning or eventual liver failure. Rather, it can also refer to:
Other related long-term diseases due to chronic heavy drinking
Unintended sexual behaviours, including sexual assault
Accidents such as those caused by drunk-driving
Crime, including violent crimes and homicide
To reiterate, binge drinking can very well lead to alcoholism and it shouldn’t be taken too lightly. Identifying people at greatest risk can help stop problems before they develop. Young people are at greater risk of alcohol-related harm than adults. Excessive alcohol drinking as a teenager can greatly increase the risk of damage to the developing brain and also lead to problems with alcohol later in life. For those of you that find yourselves increasingly inclined to drink high amounts of alcohol, do consider taking proactive steps to reduce your intake. It may require strong willpower and determination initially, but things will be easier once you take the first step. Go for alcohol addiction treatment therapy or counselling, if it can give you the push you need to counter your drinking habits, or connect with like-minded people through peer support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. By curbing and reducing your alcohol consumption to safe levels, you will be doing both your physical and mental health a favour.
Dr. Barry L. Jackson, 2016, Drinking & Alcohol-Related Harm Among Young Adults, video recording, Mental Health Academy
Chodkiewicz J., Talarowska M., Miniszewska J., Nawrocka N. (2020) ‘Alcohol Consumption Reported during the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Initial Stage’, Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020, 17(13), 4677; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17134677 (Accessed 22/08/2020)
Think of the following scenario: you have friends over at your place and you serve them drinks. Before they can place their cups on your beautiful coffee table, you exclaim and dart out coasters underneath the ice-cold glasses before the first drop of dew can drip on that expensive rosewood. Your lightning-fast reflexes have intercepted what would have been a disaster. Your friends are startled at first, then they laugh and tease you. They say you have OCD – obsessive-compulsive disorder.
This, or a similar instance, may have happened at some point in our lives before. We tidy up a mess in the presence of others, or when our belongings are organised ever so neatly, and we end up joking about OCD.
But in truth, OCD is far from such behaviours that could be written off so light-heartedly.
A person with OCD will have compulsions – they feel the need to perform certain repeated behaviours to reduce emotional distress or to prevent undesirable consequences. These compulsions are so intense that they cannot carry out other daily routines without acting on them. Some common ones include:
Excessive washing or cleaning – They fear contamination and clean or wash themselves or their surroundings many times within a day.
Checking – They repeatedly check things associated with danger, such as ensuring the stove is turned off or the door is locked. They are obsessed with preventing a house fire or someone breaking in.
Hoarding or saving things – They fear that something bad will happen if they throw anything away, so they compulsively keep or hoard things, usually old newspapers or scraps of papers which they do not actually need or use.
Repeating actions – They repetitively engage in the same action many times, such as turning on and off a light switch or shaking their head a numerous number of times, up 20 to 30 times.
Counting and arranging – They are obsessed with order and symmetry, and have superstitions about certain numbers, colours, or arrangements, and seek to put things in a particular pattern, insisting to themselves that the layout must be symmetrical.
When Does OCD Become Chronic and What Should You Do If That Happens?
OCD is a chronic disorder, so it is an illness that one will have to deal with for the rest of his or her life. It is difficult to tell when the disorder becomes chronic, as it presents the individual with long-lasting waxing and waning symptoms. Although most with OCD are usually diagnosed by about age 19, it typically has an earlier age of onset in boys than in girls, but onset after age 35 does occur.
A cognitive model of OCD suggests that obsessions happen when we perceive aspects of our normal thoughts as threatening to ourselves or to others, and we feel responsible to prevent this threat from happening. These misperceptions often develop as a result of early childhood experiences. For example, a child may experience living in a dirty and dusty environment, while being subjected to some form of trauma at the same time. He associates a lack of hygiene with suffering from the trauma. At a later stage in life, he may start to feel threatened upon seeing the unhygienic behaviours of someone he lives with, be it his parents, romantic partner, or flatmates. This leads to the reinforcement of the association and to the development of his beliefs that suffering is inevitable when unhygienic conditions are present, giving him compulsions to improve these unsanitary conditions through washing and cleaning.
If one is affected by OCD to the extent that he or she is unable to hold down a job and to manage household responsibilities, then there is a need for clinical treatment as the symptoms have become severe. Like in the above-mentioned example, recurrent and persistent thoughts of dirt will give the individual compulsions to neutralise these thoughts, resulting in repetitive washing, and checking behaviours. This causes distress and significantly affects one’s functioning.
When OCD has become a chronic illness, through a formulation of intervention strategies, the psychologist should extrapolate the client’s pattern of behaviour and expect a positive prognosis for functional improvement.
How Can OCD Be Treated?
A person diagnosed with OCD may seek treatment through a treatment plan that consists of cognitive strategies. These cognitive strategies involve consciously implementing sets of mental processes in order to control thought processes and content. Through these cognitive strategies, we can examine and restrict the thoughts and interpretations responsible for maintaining OCD symptoms. This is conducted in the initial stages of therapy.
Thereafter, Exposure Response Prevention (ERP) methods are carried out once a client is able to understand and utilise these cognitive strategies. ERP requires the client to list out their obsessive thoughts, identify the triggers that bring about their compulsions and obsessions and rate their levels of distress on each of these. Starting with a situation that causes mild or moderate distress, the client is exposed to their obsessive thoughts and simultaneously tries to resist, engaging in any identified behaviours that they have been using to neutralise these thoughts. The amount of anxiety is tracked each time the process is repeated. When anxiety levels for this particular situation eventually subside, over several repeated processes, and when they no longer feel significant distress over this situation, the same method is repeated for the next obsessive thought with the next level of distress.
A client who is able to demonstrate strength in coping with the symptoms has a better likelihood for sufficient recovery.
OCD is Becoming More Prevalent in Singapore: How has it Been Accepted in Society?
In recent years, OCD has topped the list of mental disorders in Singapore, with the greatest number of people experiencing it in 2018, compared with other mental illnesses.
The disorder has been found to be more prevalent among young adults than those aged 50 and above. In terms of socio-economic status, OCD is more likely to occur amongst those with a monthly household income of less than S$2,000 than those who earn above that amount.
It has also been found that the prevalence of people experiencing OCD at least once in their lifetime is higher in Singapore than in South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
In addition to becoming more prevalent, people who experience OCD are also becoming increasingly reluctant to seek psychiatric help or counselling, making matters worse. There is some acceptance of the condition as normal and trivial by society, because people who do not understand the disorder well enough misconceive OCD as a quality of being clean and tidy, as being clean and tidy is usually seen as a good thing. This misconstrual by society is dangerous for the undiagnosed, and their condition will further deteriorate if they continue to put off addressing their disorder.
The disorder will get worse if treatment is ignored, and there is a need to realise it in its early stages through observing how one’s life is being disrupted. Awareness about its onset of symptoms is important.
In an article titled “Drug syndicates get crafty as supply disrupted, prices spike”, Andrew da Roza, addictions therapist at Promises Healthcare, told Straits Times reporter Zaihan Mohamed Yusof that “anecdotally”, the costs of illegally imported prescription medication and illicit drugs have risen, “although supplies appear to be available”. Mr da Roza goes on to say that he has noticed that some drug addicts are managing withdrawal symptoms and cravings by substituting their drugs of choice with alcohol, new psychoactive substances and over-the-counter medication. The article also mentions that people may seek alternative methods to obtain illicit substances as supply chains are disrupted – such as turning to the Dark Web to get their needs fulfilled by mail.
It wrote that we (Promises) have seen a 25% increase in visits to the clinic “because people are having a harder time managing compulsive behaviours such as substance abuse, smoking and gambling during the circuit breaker period.”
If you are having trouble managing an addiction, you should know that Promises Healthcare has kept its doors open all through the pandemic in service of promoting mental health. Further, in keeping with social distancing measures, our clinic is also offeringteleconsultations in place of regular visits. Support groups have also moved meetings online, which are going ahead as scheduled – on platforms like Zoom instead of physical gatherings. Do contact us for more details.
Episode 7 of En Ullae S2 is a harrowing tale of Ramesh’ descent into utter despair due to his alcohol addiction. After the lilting trill of a happy alcohol buzz wears off, people in the throes of addiction often experience a sense of bitterness and desolation. It’s an artificial stimulant that when consumed, releases endorphins, neurotransmitters that promote a feeling of euphoria and help reduce stress.
Some instances of alcoholism are undergirded by an anxiety disorder, according to Dr Rajesh Jacob. He posits that people attempt to “treat” symptoms of anxiety by self-medicating with alcohol, ameliorating the discomfort of social situations through chemically induced disinhibition and happiness. They become chattier, and won’t choke during conversations – an alluring prospect for chronically anxious people.
Ramesh, now advanced in age, wistfully recounts how he fell into alcoholism. At 15, he and his friends would entertain themselves with drinks and idle chatter at a ‘kopitiam’, a Singaporean colloquialism for ‘coffee-shop’. Dr Jacob reminds us that despite being a stimulant, long term alcohol abuse invariably leads to depression or anxiety. Alcohol addiction can stem from a variety of factors – from the ‘angry, drunk father’ to early over-exposure to alcohol, and everything in between. Hassan Mansoor, a recovering alcoholic, confesses that his first foray into Bacchanal pleasure was during his secondary school years(junior high) for you Americans). He doesn’t remember the time with rose-tinted glasses, though – his adolescent years were marked by incessant violence, physical altercations and poor academic performance. He’d thought it made him look “cool”. Beer, whiskey, “Boon Kee Low”, “Paddy”, its name derived from its roots as a rice wine, and “Deer”. All of them cheap highs.
We’re then treated to a vignette in which a listless Ramesh, rake thin, gets into an argument with his doe-eyed girlfriend over whether wine should be drunk at lunch. Both of them are adamant that they hold the moral high ground – Ramesh, with his insistence that wine is “not hard liquor”, and Reena, with the awareness that his alcoholism is ruining not only their relationship but himself. We learn that the long-suffering Reena has tolerated Ramesh’s equivocations and excuses for four years, and she’s at the end of her tether.
(Click on the link for a version with English subtitles. Remember to click on the ‘Settings’ button to reveal the English subtitle selection. https://www.mewatch.sg/en/series/en-ullae-s2/ep7/954631 ) Dr Jacob explains that genuine awareness of an alcohol problem can only legitimately come from within, and external criticism is met with a wall of anger and irritation. In the early stages of alcohol addiction, one usually does manage to induce some level of happiness. As the disease progresses, drinking no longer “feels good” and chemical dependence means that consumption is imperative to avoid withdrawals. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms include hand tremors, which can set in as quickly as 4 – 6 hours from the last drink, insomnia, anxiety, psychological cravings, palpitations and sweating. Alcohol addiction is a vicious cycle, according to Dr Jacob.
Most people suffering from alcohol addiction start off with social drinking, which isn’t a problem in itself. However, addiction is a chronic, progressive disease which Dr Jacob measures with three factors of varying severity: drink frequency, duration of drinking, and cravings. Ramesh admits that his family life and relationships suffered. Getting blackout drunk was a nightly affair, which left his wife paranoid of his infidelity, when in fact he was unconscious in a ditch somewhere. He wouldn’t remember the events leading up to the loss of consciousness, a form of anterograde amnesia. Eventually, his wife takes out a Personal Protection Order (PPO) against him, the Singaporean variant of a restraining order.
The spiral into full throttle addiction isn’t a pretty sight. Just being in the presence of his drinking buddies would catalyse a night of binge drinking, invariably followed by a hangover in the morning made all the more unbearable by guilt over the slow rot of his cherished relationships. Work performance suffered, many a medical certificate was sought, culminating in joblessness.
Dr Jacob explains that addiction leads to productivity impairments at work. A sure sign of dependence is the need for a drink in the morning to curb tremors and imbibe him with enough energy to perform as a barely functioning alcoholic. Day drinking and surreptitious alcohol breaks are common. When in active addiction, one’s happiness (in the form of craving relief) takes precedence over that of others, and empathy goes out the window. Ramesh is reduced to a pitiable state, cajoling once close friends to spot him the occasional tenner – in their eyes, he is reduced to a shadow of his former self. Now jobless and without an income, he burdens his children with the restitution of his loans – he is now too functionally impaired to perform any meaningful work. His wife is now the sole breadwinner, and the guilt in his voice is apparent, even today.
Ramesh only manages to stop drinking for some length of time at 48 due to chest pains. After a successful heart bypass, he turns to drink again. Then comes the second bypass, which he sullies with an infection brought on by his inveterate drinking. Alcohol and heart medication should not be taken together, but his addiction blinds him to a sanguine truth. It is only after last-ditch surgery is performed that he cultivates some restraint, managing to abstain from drink when he recuperates for a month in the hospital. He is 68 when he finally gets into recovery.
All manner of physical ailments accompanies alcohol addiction. “From the head to the feet”, Dr Jacob says. The brain is atrophied such that fits, falls, bleeding, subdural hematomas and dementia become common. Liver cirrhosis brings about jaundice and bloody stool. Peripheral neuropathy, a feeling of pins and needles in the hands and feet arises from damage to nerves outside the brain and spinal cord. Even sexual performance suffers. If diabetes is comorbid, the body becomes much poorer at sugar control.
Dr Jacob recommends a ‘biopsychosocial’ model for treating alcohol addiction. “Bio” refers to medical treatment in the form of total abstinence (detoxification) and medication. “Psychosocial” refers to psychological counselling to treat addiction, medication to reduce cravings, and therapy sessions with the family. In short, a treatment model that aims to target likely risk factors for relapse.
Nobody takes their first drink and thinks, “This’ll be the death of me”. Fortunately, if people suffering from alcohol addiction take a step back and consider their mind, their physical body, and their loved ones, and combined with proper support and therapy, recovery is possible.
This episode of En Ullae touches on psychosis. This case study was about a man who had developed schizophrenia and became obsessed with the ‘spiritual safety’ of his partner. The building tension served to demonstrate the dangers of ignoring the symptoms of psychosis, which his partner was predisposed to do, in her untoward position as the long-suffering partner in a dangerously unstable relationship. Dr Jacob characterised psychosis as rooted in an unshakeable belief in false delusions – people who suffer from the condition are often willfully blind to reason, which he cautions against trying to impose on them when the time is inclement.
Prem, the unfortunate man with all the symptoms of hallucinatory schizophrenia, began to cast an evermore imposing spectre in the relationship, causing much distress to Rani. His delusions began to take such a toll on their relationship, with even the good tidings of a baby in the oven twisted into a string of abortion by Rani, afraid that he would bring harm to her and any prospective child she would bequeath upon them – he professed to see the child as a harbinger of doom, as the embodiment of the devil. Midway through the episode, the viewer is treated to the appearance of two ambiguous personalities – a man and a woman, whose blue lanyard faintly conveyed some sense of authority. We are left uncertain as to their actual responsibilities – they are at times quizzical, unwilling to manifest the “good cop, bad cop” trope. No matter, it is not the point of the episode to further entangle the convoluted plotlines – they serve as plot devices which encourage Prem’s own narrative to unfold – to the end, he remains stolidly convinced that his stabbing of Rani had taken her to a better place, the expression on his face almost beatific at times.
Dr Jacob, at this point, sees fit to caution the viewer against harshly attributing homicidal tendencies to persons with psychosis. He presents the statistic that even less than 15% of homicides are perpetrated by people mentally unsound. Noting the prevalence of drug use and antisocial tendencies that colour this 15%, he confidently steers the viewer away from making too quick a conclusion – it is in everyone’s best interest to step back and evaluate statistics grounded in good science, instead of leaping to the easy conclusion that Prem was beyond rehabilitation.
Vasantham (Mediacorp’s Tamil & Hindi TV Channel) studios reached out to Promises Healthcare’s Senior Clinical Psychologist, S C Anbarasu, in the name of bringing greater mental health awareness to the Indian community in Singapore.
S C Anbarasu shared on the En Ullae episode on Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which featured an actor playing the role of Bala, a well-educated 29-year-old man who struggled with the disorder, bringing his mother to exasperation at times – because as an outsider looking in, she simply wasn’t equipped to understand the condition. Kartik Anand, a social worker who has dabbled in theatre, retold his very personal conception and experience of living with the disorder, albeit with a great deal calmer than “Bala”. The two narratives played off each other, the contrast in each man’s tone and manner starkly laying out the case for sensible treatment. OCD, according to Anbarasu, is a condition that is treatable – with medication and/or therapy. This, he let on at the close of the episode, as a rather stirring montage of Kartik’s achievements on the stage served to remind viewers the uncharitableness of stigmatising people suffering from mental disorders. I haven’t been diagnosed with anything in the DSM-V, but I definitely couldn’t do what Kartik’s done in the field of arts!
Broadly, OCD “traps” an individual within the pounding negativity of unintentional, “dangerous”, recurring thoughts. It exists on a spectrum, where the diagnosis is made upon examination of the severity of four key symptoms. An obsession with cleanliness and avoiding contamination, intrusive thoughts that may be disturbing in nature, fixation on symmetry and order, and desires to harm others that leak forth the yawning chasm that is the mind. OCD affects all aspects of a sufferers’ life – relationships, career, friendships, family, because when undiagnosed and untreated, it is, for lack of a better word, insidious. For Kartik, the weekends were not a source of solace – the dread of his intrusive thoughts running amok kept him clamouring for the steady humdrum of office life and its banal distractions. Interestingly, the episode went out of its way to hint that a mind plagued by OCD shouldn’t simply be viewed as a byzantine web of horrors – both “Bala” and Kartik, upon noticing an injured pigeon, were ensnared by their empathy for the distressed creatures. “Bala” felt the expiration of the pigeon’s nasty, brutish and short life as if it were a weight he had to carry, while Kartik battled his obsession with cleanliness by tending to the bird, risking contact with the animal’s blood. Empathy and bravery. Anbarasu emphasised the importance of finding out if comorbid disorders (a medical term in psychiatry for someone that has more than one mental disorder) were also present, because of the difficulty of diagnosis. In the final third of the episode, the viewer is meant to empathise, or at least sympathise with “Bala” – who unravels in a frenzied spiral of intrusive thoughts. Plagued by visions of harming his closest friend, or a pretty waitress he’d spotted, he is driven to hallucinations as bizarre as his showerhead turning into a snake.
Caught in a cycle of insomnia and isolation, his thoughts overwhelm him to the point of complete breakdown – he melts into the comforting bosom of his mother, all the while cognizant that he is a 29-year-old man. The tragic tale of “Bala” remains unresolved, but serves to inform the public that it is of the utmost importance to get a potential sufferer into treatment if the symptoms’ severities warrant it. Anbarasu brings the episode to a close, by using “Bala” as a cautionary tale – if you are experiencing such symptoms, or notice a loved one behaving similarly, seek professional medical help from a trained therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist. It is a treatable condition, and with the right help, your life could be as full as Kartik Anand’s.