We have a very complicated relation with alcohol. We accept alcohol as vital part of our culture. That’s where the real problem stems from.
Many studies have been carried out about alcohol and its impact on the society. Reports have been damning. Yet we could do nothing about it.
A recent RENEW report says that about 70 percent of domestic violence cases are committed under the influence of alcohol. Because we accept alcohol as essential element of our culture, problems related with it are not confined only in certain pockets of the country.
In the rural parts of the country, families struggle to eke out a decent living because much of what they grow is put almost entirely into brewing Ara, Bangchang, or Singchang; it is clear why poverty in the country is largely a rural phenomenon.
Urban centres are no better. In fact, our towns and cities have more alcohol outlets than is necessary. Every second shop is a bar. No wonder our children begin drinking early. Our culture supports early drinking and we have incredible number of wine houses to procure them from. There are a total of 5,407 licensed alcohol outlets in the country, which translates to one outlet for every 98 Bhutanese above the age of 15. Thimphu alone has 944 outlets, closely followed by Chukha and Sarpang.
According to a study, per capita alcohol consumption among Bhutanese adults (above the age of 15) is 8.47 litres against global consumption rate 6.2 litres. Two in five Bhutanese currently drink alcohol and one in five engage in heavy ‘episodic drinking’. This is worrying. Records with the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP) and the forensic unit of the national referral hospital in Thimphu show increase in alcohol-related cases of domestic violence.
These facts speak a lot about our society. Alcohol use is also a predisposing factor contributing to teenage pregnancy. According to the national nutrition survey 2015, about 15.9 percent of pregnant women consume alcohol, resulting in fetal alcohol spectrum disorders in children. Too, going a study, alcohol aggravates HIV/AIDS epidemic. The spread of HIV/AIDS and increasing suicide rate associated with alcohol consumption can be a serious obstacle to Bhutan’s development. The burden on the health and the nation’s economy will be huge.
There is an urgent need to address alcohol consumption and related issues in the country. How difficult is it, for instance, to implement an ID check system to reduce consumption rate? Enforcement of laws should be made effective. It is the responsibility of every Bhutanese to keep our children away from alcohol. Issuing licence for alcohol production could be stopped as we have done with outlet licence.