What to do about alcoholism

Alcohol consumption is the world´s third-highest risk factor for diseases, disability and premature mortality – WHO report.

With the current global lifestyle revolution, no one has yet realized that alcoholism is increasing, especially among young people. Are we ready to lose more people?

It’s a common question for parents to ask when they should begin talking to their children about alcohol use. Any parent with an honest assessment of the situation today should have consciously started by now.

According to the World Health Organization´s (WHO) report on Alcohol and Health 2011, the findings delivered grim news regarding worldwide alcohol use. Alcohol consumption is the world´s third-highest risk factor for diseases, disability and premature mortality, which significantly compromises individual and social development. The report further stated that almost 4 percent of all deaths worldwide are attributed to alcohol – that’s more than the deaths caused by HIV/AIDS, violence and Tuberculosis.

A study in Kenya by the government’s National Campaign Against Drug Abuse (NACADA) in 2007 revealed, nationally, 13 percent of the population at the time consumed alcohol and illicit brews and second-generation alcohol, including changáa, popularly known as waragi in Uganda, was consumed by more than 15 percent of 15-64 year olds. Alcoholism has significant impact on both drinkers and non-drinkers.

Signs and symptoms of alcoholism

Early signs include frequent intoxication, an established pattern of heavy drinking even in dangerous situations, such as when driving.

Black-out drinking or drastic change in demeanor while drinking, such as consistently becoming angry or violent.

Main symptom of alcohol abuse occurs when someone continues to drink after their drinking reaches a level that causes recurrent problems such as continuing to drink after it causes one to miss work, drive drunk, shirk responsibilities or get in trouble with the law.

Health effects of alcohol

Early use and abuse of alcohol can contribute to diseases like: liver cirrhosis, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes mellitus, neuropsychiatric disorders and cancer.

Young people who participate in unsafe sex under the influence of alcohol through binge drinking or during intoxication are at a greater risk of contracting infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS and STIs (this has led to becoming the major risk factor for death and burden among the 15-59 age group as excess alcohol consumption weakens the immune system and has a negative effect on patients adherence to (antiretroviral treatment).

Damage to the unborn children whose mothers’ uses alcohol while pregnant are at great risk. practice could lead to miscarriage or deformed child when born.

Sexual impotence: A good example is in Kenya’s Central Province region where women were complaining that they were denied conjugal rights, as their husbands consistently came home drunk and went straight to sleep day after day.

Other effects of alcohol

Psychosocial problems and consequences like suicide, violence, abuse, unemployment and school absenteeism among young people. Lack of education due to high number of school drop-outs stands a high risk factor of youths being among the lower socioeconomic group in future.

Accidents caused by reckless drunk drivers can kill or disable people. Break-ups/divorces in serious marriages.

Economically, there is lack of production at work due to inefficiency.

Many of our youth live by the norm there is no alcohol without sex, and no sex without taking alcohol. Is our society today driven by the pleasure principle or moral principles? Something somewhere is just not right.

What’s to be done to curb the rising obsessions

In 1999, WHO reported on alcoholic policies that at-least 34 countries adopted national policies, and most countries have what they described as “weak alcohol policies and prevention programmes that do not protect the health and safety of the populace.” The WHO Global Survey on Alcohol and Health (2008) revealed a 71 percent increase in underage drinkers from 73 countries that responded to the survey. Among 18-25 year olds, there was 80 percent increase in 80 countries. We need strict National youth policies on alcohol to be in full effect.

In Kenya, there is a law commonly known as ‘Mututho Law’ that limits operating hours on bars to between 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. on weekdays and 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. on weekends. Night clubs are allowed to open between 7 p.m. and 3 a.m. Sadly though, the law only targets ordinary Kenyans whereas those who can afford to belong to exclusive clubs and special outlets face no restrictions. No one should be spared with the wrath of the law.

For club owners who allow minors to drink at their establishments, there should be arrests, high fines and prison sentences. Children are sent on errands to buy alcoholic drinks in concerts and shows without much attention being paid to who is buying.

One should produce proper identification credentials like a driving license, passport or National Identity Card (which clearly states date of birth) before entering a club and purchasing the drinks. In addition, the shops licensed to sell alcohol often found across the streets near schools should be closed indefinitely and their licenses terminated.

While there is a warning sign on the purchase of cigarettes, there is absolutely no warning about the proven dangers and effects of alcohol. Some stores and supermarkets dedicate floor-to-ceiling shelves to alcoholic beverages. This should be dealt with accordingly by the strict rules and regulations in the laws provided.

Other ways to reduce the burden of harmful use of alcohol according to WHO are: Regulating the marketing and restricting availability of alcoholic beverages, enacting appropriate drinking-driving policies (I suggest Alco-blows be used appropriately in clubs and on roads), reducing demand through taxation and pricing mechanisms, raising accessible and affordable treatment for people with alcohol use disorders, and implementing screening programs and brief interventions for hazardous and harmful use of alcohol.

By Michael Wandati