Alcohol is one of the most used and misused drugs known to men. It has now become a major social issue in many countries. It is as though alcohol is strangling societies gradually.

Alcohol has disastrous effects on consumer’s health, career and family.

In Bhutan, the reason alcohol is misused is because it is widely accepted in the society. People drink to be sociable. Many restaurants and shops offer alcohol. Bars and pubs are everywhere. Alcohol is usually included at celebrations or family and social gatherings. For example, we cannot do away with alcohol items during any kind of rimdro.

Bhutanese pick up drinking habit early on. And as they grow, the habit becomes stronger and often difficult to tackle. Children copy their parents and elders and drink openly. By and by, casual drinkers become serious alcoholics. They become helplessly dependent. Alcohol then becomes a friend indeed. One needs it in times of sadness and sorrow, in times of happiness and jubilation. Alcohol is a vital element during celebrations.

But the cost of consuming too much alcohol is huge, both on the person who consumes and on the state. In Bhutan, where health services are free, it is a heavy burden on the government coffer.

Alcohol is already the major killer in the country. How we can wean away habitual drinkers from alcohol is the major challenge facing the country today.

Besides damaging liver, alcohol affects brain, heart, kidneys, and digestive system. It is also a leading cause of cancer. To reduce deaths related to alcohol consumption and to minimise burden on the country’s health system, therefore, there is a serious need to come up with innovative and effective ways to address alcoholism and social acceptance. It is a challenge to teach moderation. How successfully do we that?

Consuming moderate amount of alcohol is indeed good. It helps bring your HDL level up, which helps protects your heart against diseases. It can also lower risk of developing diabetes by increasing your insulin sensitivity. It can also raise ‘good cholesterol’ levels. Our problem, though, is that we do not know how to consume. Perhaps, we should start from here, with strong education and advocacy.

Bhutan has tried various methods to address the problem of excessive consumption of alcohol. What is important is that ways and means ought to be practical and true to the purpose. Banning alcohol import did not help. It never will help. Raising alcohol price won’t help. In fact, this could have a more detrimental effect on the society, considering that habitual drinkers will anyway find a way to drink.

But the real problem is when young people increasingly take to alcohol. This could, in the long run, have serious implication to the health and economy of the country. It is because of this that we need to address this growing societal problem urgently. It is not the responsibility of one ministry alone to wean our young people away from alcohol. As citizens, there is an urgent need to put in concerted effort to educate our people about the harmful effect of excessive consumption of alcohol. Our methods need to change. We need to adopt innovative and effective measures.

As a result of alcohol abuse, children and family members often have to grapple with domestic issues. This leads to a series of problems in the lives of many people. Alcohol consumption and depression is today the leading cause of suicide. What is alarming is that the issue of alcoholism is growing in the urban centres rather than in the rural pockets of the country where it is traditionally accepted. That’s why, to put it mildly, urban families are increasingly becoming fragmented, affecting everyone in the society.

It is no more surprising to find youth drinking in bars, throwing invective words. This is a worrying sign of failure. Who do we blame when a child goes off the way? What do we say when parents themselves are alcoholics and do not care about the future of their children? Do we blame education, or do we hold bar owners responsible?

Schools and teachers have played their part. They can only do so much. The blame lies entirely with parents. Bring up your children responsibly. Real education begins from here.

Contributed by  Saacha Dorji

Darla MSS Chukha