1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Fighting addiction

February 16, 2012

Germany has launched a new national strategy to combat addiction. The biggest problem was and is alcohol - but new forms of addiction like online computer games or the Internet are also shifting center stage.

Teenager with bottles of alcoholic drinks
Komasaufen IllustrationImage: picture-alliance/dpa

For years, Germany has been among the countries with the highest level of alcohol consumption. Every third crime is committed under the influence of drink, the costs of treating alcohol-related illnesses are a staggering 267 billion euros ($348 billion) per year.

Despite a slight decline in alcohol consumption, Berlin's new national strategy to combat addiction still lists alcohol as the major problem.

The focus is especially on binge drinking among teenagers. Authorities plan to launch special campaigns targeted at young people to warn them of the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption.

Alcohol advertisements are not to be tackled though - Germany's Commissioner for Drugs Mechthild Dyckmanns on Wednesday said Berlin trusted companies to be aware of their responsibilities to protect children and teenagers.

In Germany, the minimum age to buy strong alcohol is 18. Beer, wine and mixed drinks can be sold to teenagers when they're 16. Two years ago, some German states banned the sale of alcohol at gas stations during the night.

Internet addiction

The second biggest form of addiction still is tobacco - even though the number of smokers is declining and has even reached a record low among teenagers. But authorities have identified other forms of addiction that pose a threat especially to young people.

Mechthild Dyckmans
Dyckmans wants to tackle binge drinkingImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Experts are divided at what stage Internet usage qualifies as a pathological addiction. Simply counting the hours someone spends on the web is not enough - other factors must also be considered.

The government estimates there are around 250,000 Internet addicts in the 14-24 age group. Online addiction though has so far not been defined as an illness, which means it is usually treated alongside different, accompanying illnesses or symptoms.

More help for immigrants

The new government strategy to combat addiction also focuses on the special case of immigrants. Here, cultural factors can play a big role. Teenagers with a Russian background are more likely to use opiate drugs, while Muslims are more likely to consume cannabis or alcohol.

Young men with an immigrant background are also more likely to develop a gambling problem. And if those affected have a poor command of the German language, access to help and proper treatment also becomes more difficult. That's why the Health Ministry this year plans to launch a number of new projects focusing on addiction in the immigrant community.

The key to successfully dealing with addiction, the government says, is prevention, early diagnosis and treatment as well as adjusting the support programs to the specific risk groups targeted.

Author: Bernd Gräßler / ai
Editor: Neil King