Alcoholism and the Pandemic in Hungary


unnamedBy Bence Takács

Alcoholism has been present in the Eastern European region for many decades and unfortunately Hungary is no exception when it comes to heavy drinking. According to a recent study conducted by the World Health Organization, Hungarians are the eighth in the world in terms of per capita alcohol consumption, which means that Hungary belongs the top 3% when it comes to drinking. If we take a look at gender-based breakdown of the data, we can see that hardcore drinking is four times more likely to occur among men, and only one-third of men abstain from any type of alcohol, reports While a study conducted by the University of Portsmouth in the middle of spring shows that sales of alcoholic beverages grew 291% worldwide, different regions have different behavior patterns around the Globe. According to Hungarian toxicologist Gábor Zacher, there were 800,000 alcoholics in Hungary last year.

Taking into account all these pieces of information, under the current circumstances we cannot be too optimistic when it comes to this year’s domestic numbers. Contrarily, in some other parts of the world, like the United States, alcohol consumption has been decreasing, with the exception of alcohol-free, beers according to Bloomberg News. There could be many explanations of this phenomenon, including societal differences and belief systems.

This so-called ‘new normal’ caused by the coronavirus pandemic certainly makes matters worse, especially in countries where the problem of alcoholism was already a serious problem. Doctors in in the U.K. fear that people could be drinking so much alcohol during the coronavirus lockdown that a ‘second health crisis’ is on the way.

Scientists at the University of Portsmouth have said in their study that many people are turning to alcohol to handle the stress, anxiety and boredom of being isolated at home. The biggest danger for alcoholics is to relapse, because often times the motivating factors disappear in isolation.

One of the wildest urban legends about coronavirus treatments that gained notoriety during the isolation period is that alcohol can be a remedy when it is taken internally.

The notion that hard-alcohol – like many Hungarians favorite drink; Pálinka – is beneficial due to its disinfectant quality has been integral part of Hungarian folkloric pseudo-medicine. Just as Rum was believed to be the best medicine for stomach pains for mariners centuries ago, in similar ways Pálinka is still regarded as a great way to treat milder infectious diseases among many Hungarians today. The truth is that alcohol consumption does not protect you from any infections, including the novel coronavirus, and frequent and excessive drinking are especially detrimental to our health and can lead to further complications. While certain types of alcoholic beverages might alleviate symptoms of different gastric diseases, juxtaposing them to today’s medicine, we would be foolish to choose alcohol as a treatment for any kind of disease. It is extremely easy for a person struggling with alcoholism to justify drinking, especially when it is combined with outside factors caused by “the disintegration of structures, tensions form cramped cohabitation, lack of working and studying or just free-time activities, existential uncertainties, limitation of therapeutic possibilities are all sources of stress and hardships, and an alcoholic person typically solves these types of problems by heavy drinking,” said Zsolt, Demetrovics addictology, professor of ELTE Phycology Institute, in an interview with Hungarian news portal Index.

As we are learning more and more about the novel coronavirus and trying to adjust to the new environment caused by the lockdowns and restrictions, it is vitally important to understand the long-term effects of compulsive behaviors and addictions like alcoholism. We must be mindful in our solutions to this pandemic, in order to prevent other local or global emergencies from happening.

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