West Indians seem to think that binge drinking and massive amounts of alcohol consumption are a hilarious joke and signify the “free spirited” nature of the region. Just look at songs like Kabawé by DYP or Rum & Redbull by Beenie Man. Although both songs are good songs, they do glorify a culture of irresponsible behavior with one of the most dangerous drugs anyone with a twenty dollar bill can buy over the counter with absolutely no interference. Today, I’m not going to go into the root causes of alcohol addiction, but hopefully I will highlight why this public health emergency presents a far graver danger than marijuana, our governments’ current scapegoat for every social ill under the sun.
I’ve written briefly about alcohol before, comparing it to marijuana but today I’m mostly going to shy away from comparisons and delve into the social/physical implications of alcohol addiction. I say that alcohol addiction presents a far more serious problem for a couple primary reasons:
- Alcohol is ridiculously easy to buy in the Caribbean. At least in Saint Lucia, you can’t drive 100 ft without passing a bar. You can buy alcohol in the grocery stores and there is no enforced drinking age. (You can act like a drinking age is enforced but I have hard evidence that suggests otherwise…)
- Alcohol is linked to social issues that disproportionately impact women such as intimate partner violence and sexual assault. (To any cretins reading… No, I don’t mean women’s alcohol consumption causes sexual assault. Rather, men seem to commit sexual assault when binge drinking.)
But what impact does alcohol have? Why can’t it just be fun and games?
Here is how easy it is to get hooked on alcohol according to two different scales averaged together:
On this chart, you can see that some aspects of alcohol addiction are more potent than nicotine and cocaine. Alcohol is certainly more addictive than caffeine or marijuana. Additionally, the biggest “advantage” alcohol has over all these drugs is that it’s incredibly easy for anyone to purchase at any time, for any reason, in any quantity. Addictions are most easily formed in younger people, so this accessibility of alcohol means the public health burden of alcohol will certainly be greater as more people are permitted (and encouraged through media/family influence) to start drinking early.
Drinking too much over time (whether you can be diagnosed with alcoholism or not) has negative impacts on many parts of your body for example:
- Heart problems: stroke, high blood pressure, arrhythmias, cardiomyopathy
- Liver: alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis, fibrosis, fatty liver (which is unhealthy)
- Pancreatic issues
- Increase your risk of developing certain cancers: mouth, esophagus, throat, liver, breast
- Weakening your immune system so you’re more likely to develop illnesses like pneumonia and tuberculosis than non-drinkers or moderate drinkers
- alcohol poisoning
- nerve damage and/or permanent brain damage
- sexual problems
- ulcers / gastritis
- increased risk of unintentional injuries (such as car accidents, falls, misuse of dangerous weapons)
Don’t forget that alcoholism is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. In a region with far fewer restrictions on alcohol, and higher rates of alcoholism, you can safely speculate that the numbers are at least equal, if not worse.
Alcohol abuse additionally has big social implications for example:
- Pregnant women who drink are at risk of having their children develop fetal alcohol syndrome
- Drinking impairs anyone’s ability to contribute to the household function (this may include earning capacity, or capacity to engage in general maintenance of the household)
- If one party spends a lot of money to feed their addiction, this can negatively impact a poor family, draining them of most of their resources. Taking these resources away can lead to poor health outcomes for everyone, not just the alcoholic as money is diverted from other health care or child care needs
- Drinking can lead to home accidents and domestic violence
- Alcoholism can lead to loss of family income due to inability to work OR due to premature death of a provider
- There are substantial mental health problems that accompany alcoholism (some examples include depression & anxiety)
The effects of mens’ heavy drinking in the household have strong negative impacts on the women in the household in these regards:
- Increased instances of domestic violence
- Increased risk of HIV infection
- increased economic burden on their partners
This is just examining the social effects of alcohol in one specific lens. Of course, there are other aspects of social functioning to consider like the ability to function in the workplace. If these social problems don’t resonate with you, visit this reddit thread of “adult children” of alcoholics filled with heart wrenching personal stories that just begin to highlight the negative impact alcoholism has on families.
Overall, this isn’t to shame alcoholics or to suggest that there is something inherently wrong with them. In this culture, getting caught in a dangerous cycle is beyond easy. Breaking a habit of heavy drinking and/or alcoholism however is — in contrast — far more difficult. Here, we don’t have Alcoholics Anonymous or Al-Anon. We don’t have the facilities for medical detoxification when necessary. Our society encourages one thing, but when it gets out of hand, drinkers are blamed and vilified rather than helped to heal. And of course, this post will never be able to cure someone’s alcoholism or heavy drinking. Education and knowing the facts isn’t enough to stop addiction; this is a moralistic (and incorrect) myth about addiction that leads to placing the blame on addicts. We need a public health intervention that includes education but doesn’t stop there.
And no matter what needs to be done on an institutional level, we also need to change our culture surrounding alcohol. Binge drinking isn’t fun or funny. Our “carefree” culture isn’t actually carefree at all. It’s flat out irresponsible and dangerous. Alcoholism and calling rum “therapy” isn’t a joke. When you take alcoholism lightly, you diminish one of the most serious health issues our nations face.
This is a serious public health issue that has damaged our countries and will continue to damage them until something changes.
If you suspect that you or someone close to you may be heading down a dangerous path with alcohol, please view some of these resources linked here:
Am I an alcoholic self test[x]
I drink, but how can I tell if I’m an alcoholic?[x]
Am I alcoholic dependent?[x]