Our relationship with alcohol has been complicated. Addressing the problems and challenges related to alcohol so has at best appeared tentative.
Should it be a cause for concern? Of course.
Alcohol-related diseases are among the biggest health burdens in the country today. The direct cost of treating one alcoholic patient is estimated at Nu1,22,000, contributing to the escalation of health care costs. And it is growing—with it social and economic costs.
There have been attempts and measures to address the issue. Many discussions have happened in the parliament. We even experimented with bar licences but the ban on issuing new licences has done little to improve the situation. On the other hand access to alcohol has been as open and easy as ever.
Some even called for a total ban on alcohol in the country. That’s not going to work. There are cultural aspects of alcohol to be considered. But that ought not to give us the excuse to not so something significant so that there is a sensible and much-needed regulation.
Alcohol may be part of our culture but alcoholism and problems related to alcohol are not. They have never been. It is precisely this new and growing reality that should worry us. Implications, in the long run, will be costly.
Alcohol has been recognised as the leading cause of vehicle accidents, deaths, injuries and domestic violence cases in the country.
According to a well-placed global research, people with alcoholism are up to 120 times more likely to commit suicide than those not dependent on alcohol—someone commits suicide every 40 seconds.
A survey found that in eastern Bhutan more than 58 percent of the respondents were alcoholics. In Thimphu, of the 36.4 percent of the adults who had consumed alcoholic beverages in the past year, 10.5 percent engaged in binge drinking. In rural areas, as much as 50 percent of the grain harvest of each household is used to brew alcohol each year. Underage drinking is also a serious problem.
At the heart of the problem is lack of coordination among the agencies which has resulted in poor implementation of rules and regulations related to alcohol. Bridging this yawning gap ought not to be intractable.
National Policy and Strategic Framework to reduce harmful use of alcohol recognises the need to adopt “sound measures to minimise consumption and reduce alcohol-related harms” among the population.
Elimination of alcohol products altogether will not be possible. It may not even be desirable. Our only hope lies in being able to limit or minimise consumption. And this can be done.