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Growing Alcoholism

Updated: January 8, 2011 4:39 pm

I have a nice house, all toys. But why is there so much yelling and shouting at night? I cry when mummy or daddy beat me and scold me for no reason. I am terribly scared. Daddy will hurt mummy and she will hurt me in return. Please ask daddy not to drink.

                This is one of those many pages written by Reshmi, a ten year old from Kolkata, in her home work copy.

                According to research, a child of an alcoholic has four times the chance of becoming an addict. Their damaged childhood carries over to their adulthood and they have a high incidence of divorces and career problems.

                Though tax collected from alcohol sales fills the state governments’ exchequer in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh and others, its hidden costs over society, family, health and moral values are more than that. A recent study in UK claims that alcohol is deadlier than heroin and cocaine.

                The Indian society is undergoing a tectonic shift in its socio-economic fabric. The exposure to satellite television, internet, mobile phone, rapid lifestyle transition and growing disposable incomes influence the widespread normalisation of alcohol use. According to a report published by market research firm International Wine and Spirit Record, the total consumption of alcoholic beverages in India is expected to touch 217.1 million cases in 2010, marking a growth of 8 per cent from the previous year. The total consumption of spirits in the country stood at 200 million cases in 2009.

                According to World Health Organisation estimation, alcohol and drug addiction affects 10 per cent of any population. With increasing population, the 10 per cent figure obviously increases in terms of sheer number of persons. Moreover, with other factors such as increased economic resources, societal stresses such as growing aspirations and migration to urban areas, easier access, greater tolerance towards a more liberated lifestyle, alcohol dependence is bound to grow. There are no recent studies, but hospitals and rehabilitation centres report increasing admissions.

                There has been a significant lowering of age at initiation of drinking. Data from Karnataka showed a drop from a mean of 28 years to 20 years, between the birth cohorts of 1920-30 and 1980-1990. The nontraditional segment of urban women and youth along with an urban middle and upper socioeconomic classes are responsible for the stagnation of country liquor and whisky segment that earlier accounted for over 95 per cent of documented consumption and the growth of the non-traditional sectors of beer, white spirits and wine. The local alcohol industry, quick to seize upon this emerging market, has introduced new products such as flavoured and mild alcoholic products, aimed to recruit nondrinkers, targeted primarily at teenagers, women and young men.

                The cost of alcohol to society makes it the most harmful drug being abused in the UK, according to a study published in the British medical journal Lancet. It’s legal and readily available. According to the Clinical Research Foundation, Chennai, the hidden, cumulative costs of healthcare, absenteeism at workplace and reduced income levels related to heavy alcohol use are higher. Trauma, violence, organ system damage, various cancers, unsafe sexual practices, premature death and poor nutritional status of families with heavy drinking fathers are associated with alcohol use. Rahul Luther, founder and executive trustee, Hope Trust, Hyderabad agreed that there are cases in which alcohol addiction leads to increasing family discord and domestic violence. He said, “Alcohol always leads to family discord. Addiction affects not merely the alcoholic but all those who are close to him or her. That is why we lay great emphasis on family counseling and intimately involving the family in the recovery process.”

                Should the government bring down the drinking age in India? This policy to control the use of alcohol consumption may sound assertive but in a country, where a few years ago, a former Prime Minister flew in for an inaugural ceremony of a private aeroplane company of a prominent liquor manufacturer, how is it possible? According to Dr Vivek Benegal, Associate Professor of Psychiatry National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, the alcoholic beverage industry visibly influences the political process with contributions to political parties and in the form of inducements to voters during elections.

                There should be some responsible behavioural norms that can mitigate the tendency towards alcoholism. According to Rahul Luther, the government can introduce certain guidelines and legislation to curb the damages caused by alcohol dependency. “One of the most important areas which is largely ignored till now is to look at treatment in a modern, scientific way by issuing guidelines for contemporary treatment (existing guidelines are outdated) and encouraging the treatment industry”, he said.

By Samarpita Roy

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