Alcohol: an unnecessary evil

Published: Saturday, Jan 12,2013, 02:07 IST
The Trouble with Alcohol, Alcohol problems, Alcohol impotence, Old Monk, Alcohol Abuse

The art of decadence and glamour in Bollywood includes flashing their well toned flesh and sporting a fluted glass of champagne while being draped seductively across a rich, hot, six pack, whisky drinking male. It is a kind of east-west clash gone wrong. Expensive alcohol is flaunted by the rich and famous as a sign of opulence. Alcohol is apparently a status symbol these days. Bollywood parties for the glitterati sport a vast array of alcohol being served to gold dripped stars. In the meantime, film of this is seen in every Indian home, influencing an untold number of young fragile minds.

Some well known stars of the media flaunt their regular habit of the potent rum in the form of  “Old Monk” as “sign of sheer coolness”. Clearly, no one has quietly whispered in their ear that potent alcohol consumption is the primary cause of impotence or perhaps that is left for the failed memories of closed door whispers during their drunken stupors.

The glamorising of alcohol may persuade the “cheek kissing lipstick” elitist brigade that their behaviour is acceptable, but it is a serious problem when it comes to the analysis of alcohol addiction. Those in the media’s eye often demonstrate recklessness and a complete lack of responsibility to society in general. Dysfunctional behaviour patterns are now the acceptable “norm” in a culture heavily influenced by Bollywood and the glitterati.

I have always been astounded at the number of Indians who assume that I drink alcohol just because I live in the west. On a cursory look at Facebook, many Indians think nothing of posing proudly with their designer shades and their vast array of hotel supplied alcohol. Others are at ease in flaunting their alcohol intake as a badge of honour of some kind. Is anyone actually thinking about what they are doing?

Am I therefore supposed to fit into the western stereotype depicted by Bollywood? I have a viewpoint on alcohol. Alcohol is not essential in anyone’s life. It is also extremely easy to make a decision not to allow our lives to be ruled by it.  You simply make a life-style decision. I prefer water to vodka no matter what the circumstances. I wouldn’t be any less “cool” for opting for this no matter what the others thought of me. I don’t think alcohol is something to be proud of at all.

It is accepted that these decisions are not easy when people are influenced by social and peer pressure. Moreover, it is the simpler to use alcohol as a crutch when psychological problems arise. A person’s demons and insecurity may be their weakness. Many will be oblivious to the risks of alcohol and will use it to medicate the stress in their lives. After all, if Bollywood uses it, what can possibly be wrong with it?  The fact is alcohol is toxic and it is not a solution to anyone’s problems. Sadly, this message has not filtered to the wider population where many insist on alcohol consumption as a requirement for socialising.

About 62.5 million people in India drink alcohol with a per capita consumption of around four litres per adult per year.  Approximately 25% of road accidents are linked to alcohol consumption. There is a hefty cost to the public purse - national spending to manage the consequences of alcohol use is about $5billion per year. People are free to drink whatever they wish, but has anyone considered the repercussions of indulging in these beverages? That is the real question.

Alcohol has the capacity of affecting every system in the body. Satyamev Jayate covered the subject of Alcohol Abuse very well. The detailed account of alcoholism written by Dr Ashish Deshpande is a “must read” for everyone.

One aspect neglected by people is its long term impact on mental health. While it may cause short term euphoria, the net effect of regular/long term alcohol use is detrimental upon a person’s mental health. So, women for instance, may drink regularly to medicate their stress, not realising that the net effect may well be depression leading to potential suicidal ideation. Alcohol can be a depressant and a disaster to people with underlying mental health issues such as stress, anxiety, mood swings, depression, bipolar affective disorder etc. It can also cause disturbing behaviour changes, disinhibition and aggression.

In 2009, the Lancet reported the changing trends in India’s consumption of alcohol. Subsequent studies demonstrated the social impact of alcohol abuse. In approximately 10% of households that have an inadequate supply of food and a habitual drinker, an estimate of 1500 Kcal per household per day for household consumption could have been obtained. Money that could go towards food, medication and education is frittered away to buy alcohol. Alcoholics tend to borrow money from village money lenders at high interest rates and often end up mortgaging their lands and assets.

Alcohol is also linked to domestic violence. Alcohol related aggressive behaviour is almost always directed towards women, who are further rendered powerless in an impossible situation. The World Health Organisation has suggested an increase in liquor price to curb violence against women [Times of India]. Another rising problem is that of fatal accidents owing to drink-driving [Remove liquor stores from along highways]. The government’s weak response is the proposed a “sin tax”. Will this be enough?

In a recent survey conducted by Community Against Drunken Driving [ CADD], more than 30 percent of young people admitted to having alcohol 2-4 times a week, while 54.1 percent of boys had their first drink between 15-16 years and 41.1 percent of girls initially consumed alcohol at aged 17-18 years. In the 1990s, people first tried alcohol at an average age of 28. CADD founder Prince Singhal told the Deccan Herald

“Young boys and girls start drinking at the age of as low as 12 or 13 due to several reasons because they think it is cool. On many occasions, it also starts at home where parents introduce their underage children to alcohol to bridge the generation gap or appear cool, failing to realise the harm they are causing,”. All this demonstrates that alcohol abuse is worsening in India. There are multiple reasons for this, but we should cast our eyes on the impact of the media and Bollywood.

The identity crisis of  Bollywood film or Indian TV is obvious. The worst of the west appears to have penetrated story-lines. The population is hooked on the never ending soap operas and glamorous factory manufactured films depicting a world of carbon copies. The portrayal of dysfunctional behaviour patterns includes excessive drinking. This spills out into the lives of the larger than life movie stars. It is fascinating that in the Bollywood world of dolls, obsessed by their slimline figures and “trendy” alcohol consumption fails to note its high calorific content [Times of India]

It is this imitation of life that is making its way from Bollywood to fracture the reality of people whose social lives just cannot sustain the price of alcohol addiction.  Dysfunction is now becoming normal behaviour.  It is interesting to note that a study presented this year at the World Congress of Cardiology demonstrated that Bollywood movies directly influence the drinking habits of India’s adolescents [American Medical Network]. There is little doubt that film and media influence the habits of the population, especially the younger generation. In terms of social responsibility, of course the movers and shakers should set a good example and play their part to improve India. Do they really want an India that fritters away their time and money on addictive substances?

Historically, Gandhi and the nationalist movements were against alcohol and referred to it as a symbol of colonial oppression. This resulted in a demand for prohibition. Prohibition was included as one of the directives of state policy. Sadly, this devolved to different states. It is notable that about 15-20% of their review is from alcohol taxation. The alcohol beverage industry influences politics. It is fascinating to note the frequency of “contributions to political parties in the form of inducements to voters during elections”. A few years ago, the Prime Minister flew in for his investiture ceremony in the private aeroplane of a prominent liquor manufacturer. [India- Alcohol and Public Health] . The selling of illicit liquor is another problem faced by the local authorities [Crooks Use Defence Tag to Supply Illicit Liquor].

A more serious problem is intoxication from bootleg alcohol. This is relatively common in India’s rural areas amongst the poorer classes. In 2011, approximately 126 died in West Bengal. In 2008, at least 107 deaths were recorded in Karnataka, with another 41 in Tamil Nadu. The following year, more than 100 died in Gujarat, where alcohol is prohibited. This problem has plagued the country for many years.

Aniruddha Mookherjee, who is writing a book about indigenous Indian alcohol told the BBC

"One reason is the huge unfulfilled demand for booze which drives supply underground into an unregulated industry. The state controls the alcohol business in India, almost completely. In many states, the alcohol is produced by state-appointed groups of people who are friends of the political parties that rule various states. West Bengal is one of the few states where this doesn't happen but in Delhi, for example, all alcohol is sold in government shops," he says. He explains the difference between the costs and ingredients of the different types of alcohol here.

Social responsibility is vital – we are all responsible for each other. It is high time the mainstream media and Bollywood used their clout to send a more positive message about the devastating bio psychosocial effects of excessive alcohol consumption. If Bollywood can influence a generation’s alcohol habits, it can reverse the process by thinking carefully about the message it sends out. Bollywood has a great power to do social good, something it fails to recognise or harness.

Despite the freedom to indulge in alcoholic beverages, each individual should “think” before they “act”. Every person would read the side-effects sheet of a drug, but no one reads about the side-effects of alcohol before they consume it. Moreover, being an adult  is all about adopting some responsibility – think before circulating pictures of yourself drinking alcohol. Could you live with the fact that someone under age may assume drinking alcohol was the right thing to do? Could you live with the potential consequences [that includes death] of subsequent reckless use of alcohol?

The escalating problem of alcohol abuse is having a detrimental impact on India’s public purse. It is also destroying innocent lives. Adopting a “Devdas” approach to problem solving is the most destructive thing anyone can do to assassinate their lives. If you have an alcohol problem, recognise it, seek help and make a positive change to your life. It is important to understand that those with a serious addiction to alcohol cannot just “stop” drinking on their own. This must NOT be attempted since alcohol withdrawal can prove to be extremely dangerous and in some cases fatal. In these circumstances, it is important to seek assistance from your local doctor and/or one of the organisations specialising in alcohol addiction.

Everyone has one life, it is important to live it not abuse it with toxins.

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