We have a very strong relationship with alcohol. Consumption of alcohol is deeply deep-seated in our culture and is widely accepted as vital part of our society. It is perhaps because of this that we are now facing a serious challenge to deal with diseases and deaths related to excessive consumption of sense-knocking-soul-eating brews.
Alcohol is the leading cause of diseases, social disruptions and economic problems in our country today. Even so, and, pathetically indeed, we have not been able to deal commendably in tackling with the root cause of all these social maladies.
Record with the health ministry shows that alcoholic liver disease is the leading cause of death in Bhutan. Disturbingly still, the prevalence of alcohol consumption is increasing, and, it continues to pose a serious threat to the well-being of the society.
What is pitiful is that we know what we ought to do; only we aren’t doing enough.
We have made alcohol affordable and easily accessible. It’s a no-brainer, really. High per capita consumption and high density of liquor outlets can be directly linked to harmful use of alcohol, violence, injury, and deaths. The per capita consumption of alcohol among Bhutanese is much higher than global consumption rate.
The problem with Bhutanese is that drinking is not only pervasive. Those who drink do so in manner reckless and hazardous. Every 2 in 5 Bhutanese (42.4 percent) drink alcohol and, among them, and 1 in 5 (22.4 percent) engage in heavy episodic drinking.
In 2014, 3,140 alcohol-related health cases were reported in the country. In the same years, 176 people of productive age died of excessive alcohol consumption. Statistics are revealing and we need to be concerned about the health of individual Bhutanese and, at the same time, be worried about what economic repercussions this will bring us to.
The problem now has bloated so much so that it requires wholehearted effort to address the problem. This, in turn, will demand enormous improvement in the implementation of existing alcohol regulations in all the dzongkhags in the country.
There was a time when we considered alcohol a socially acceptable commodity. Not anymore. Today, alcohol is one of the most dangerous drugs that our people abuse in the country. It will be difficult to eliminate the use of alcohol root and branch from the society, but if we are to reduce the use and abuse of alcohol in the country, we need to make alcohol less accessible.
Today, we have 5,407 alcohol outlets – 1 outlet for every 98 Bhutanese above 15 years of age. This is not counting the many illegal (unlicensed) outlets in the country.
The good news is that the cabinet endorsed the National Policy and Strategic Framework To Reduce Harmful Use of Alcohol 2015-2020 with the hope to reduce morbidity and mortality from harmful use of alcohol by 50 percent and to reduce social problems from harmful use of alcohol by 5 percent by the end of 2020.
This shows that we now have a political will to grapple with one of the most devastating abuse our people engage in. But this is not enough. All will depend on how well we are able to enforce the existing alcohol policies and the legal tools.
We will wait too see how successfully we deal with this our greatest social malaise.