UAE doctors warn of dangers of alcohol abuse

Every week patients are admitted to emergency departments with the effects of alcohol poisoning – which include vomiting blood or being in a comatose state – after binge drinking or prolonged abuse.

Dr Magdi Mohamed says most people who abuse alcohol are men with social or financial problems. Delores Johnson / The National
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ABU DHABI // Doctors are warning residents about the irreversible and life-threatening damage that can be caused by alcohol.

Every week patients are admitted to emergency departments with the effects of alcohol poisoning – which include vomiting blood or being in a comatose state – after binge drinking or prolonged abuse.

“We see them in the ER,” said Dr Abdul Sattar, gastroenterologist at LLH Hospital in Mussaffah. “They are mostly patients who have been binge drinking, and usually not very good quality alcohol.”

Some admit to having up to 10 drinks in a short period of time, he said, and the most common patients are young to middle-aged men.

While hospitals do see cases of alcohol poisoning, related problems such as chronic liver disease, severe gastritis and pancreatitis are more common.

Dr George Alexander, a gastroenterologist at NMC Specialty Hospital in Dubai, had one patient admitted to ER repeatedly vomiting blood.

“He presented in shock with no recordable pulse or blood pressure,” Dr Alexander said.

Tests showed he was bleeding through ruptured veins in his throat, caused by cirrhosis of the liver.

“We just saved him from death,” Dr Alexander said. “He was apparently drinking half a bottle of whisky daily for the last 12 years.”

It was one of many such cases seen on a weekly basis at NMC Specialty Hospital, which also deals with the fallout from alcohol-induced accidents.

“We see on an average three to four cases of alcohol poisoning a week,” Dr Alexander said. “Chronic alcohol abuse leading to organ damage like cirrhosis of the liver and alcoholic pancreatitis is also seen frequently – about two or three cases a week.”

Both can be life threatening, Dr Alexander said.

Binge drinking is usually defined as five or more drinks at one time for a man, or four or more drinks for a woman, and some say Friday brunches with unlimited alcohol for expatriates can be to blame.

“An alcohol binge can occur over hours or last up to several days,” Dr Alexander said.

“Even when you’re unconscious or you’ve stopped drinking, alcohol continues to be released from your stomach and intestines into your bloodstream, and the level of alcohol in your body continues to rise.”

Unlike food, which can take hours to digest, alcohol is absorbed quickly by your body, Dr Alexander said. “And it takes a lot more time for your body to get rid of the alcohol you’ve consumed.”

He said most of the patients were men. “Often this man is living alone, with no family or emotional support,” Dr Alexander said. “Mostly he will have a circle of friends who are also heavily into alcohol.”

Dr Magdi Mohamed, a specialist in emergency medicine at Abu Dhabi’s Burjeel Hospital, has found most cases of alcohol abuse are among men aged between 20 and 60, typically with social or financial problems.

“We had one who was completely unconscious, in a state of coma, after consuming a large amount of alcohol,” Dr Mohamed said.

Dr Alexander said those who do drink alcohol should be moderate.

Anyone with alcohol poisoning needs immediate medical attention. Drinking strong coffee, taking a cold shower or sleeping or walking it off do not work, he said.

“This is an emergency situation,” Dr Alexander said. “Get help.”

In the UK, the government advises that people should not regularly drink more than three to four units of alcohol a day for men, equal to a pint and a half of 4 per cent beer, and two to three units for women, equal to a 175-millilitre glass of wine.

jbell@thenational.ae