Saturday: Reasons Why West Indians Should Care About Alcoholism (Part III)

Part I

Part II

I took a small break from writing Part III because I’ve been busy traveling and getting back into the swing of things with work. We need to talk really simply about the “why” when it comes to caring about alcoholism and alcohol addictions in our country. Caribbean people tend to fall into two camps — prohibitionists and deniers. Prohibitionists think that not only is alcohol un-Christian (or some other form of “pure evil”), everyone should feel this way too and be forced to act on it. Deniers believe that there is no problem and that all alcohol consumption is normal unless you are making yourself look bad publicly, in which case, this is not indicative of a wider social issue. There seems to be no in between.

I’m hardly a prohibitionist, but there’s clearly a problem with how alcoholism is treated, and I use many definitions of that verb at once, and the impact on our culture. Here are five reasons Caribbean people should care more about alcoholism. Whether or not you’re a prohibitionist, our culture surrounding alcohol needs some discussion and most likely some serious action whether this means increasing the drinking age, taking alcohol salespeople to task for who they sell alcohol to, or changing the culture within our homes and families. Everyone will have a different view of what should be done, but hopefully after today, we can agree on why.

Here are five reasons why West Indians should care about alcoholism:

1) Alcoholism poisons every organ in the body, affecting the health of our people

Clearly distressed drinkers love telling you that they feel “fine”. Yet many of those people who were so “fine” end up dying of complications directly correlated to their illness. Whether or not they accept these effects, they play a huge role in long term health outcomes. Alcohol consumption changes your mood and behavior, negatively impacts your memory and cognition. Alcoholism also increases your risk of heart problems, liver problems, pancreatic problems and significantly increases your risk of cancer diagnosis. Partially because of how it’s ingested and processed through the blood, alcohol has a wide impact on the body. Because the alcohol molecule itself is very small, it can travel throughout many different systems and both in the short term and long term, poisons them. A population with many alcoholics and binge drinkers will be signing on for the long term health impacts. Are we prepared to treat them?

2) We completely lack proper treatment and support systems for alcohol

While Alcoholics Anonymous has questionable efficacy for the majority of alcoholics, we lack both the medical and social treatments for alcoholism. I struggle to imagine “Alcoholics Anonymous” working in a country so small that anonymity is mythological. Could you really go to a meeting and confess harm you’ve done to your family when you may be sitting in a room with your wife’s second cousin? Additionally, even while volunteering in the health care system and speaking to health care professionals that I know, I haven’t heard of the medical treatment for alcoholism, naltrexone, either. If we do care enough about alcoholics in order to want them to get better, we’re left with a health care system without the adequate support for them. This indicates a huge public health problem which we should definitely care about. Even if you believe (which hopefully you don’t by Part III in this series) that alcoholism is a personal choice, shouldn’t you care about the non-drinkers who are affected?

3) Alcoholism and domestic violence are strongly linked

There’s a strong link between alcoholism and domestic violence and while there’s disagreement over whether alcoholism causes domestic violence or whether it’s simply used as an excuse by batterers, the prevalence of this link alone makes alcoholism an important women’s issue in a country where women have few resources and avenues of escape from violent partners. In a seminal 1986 study on alcohol dependence and domestic violence, one particular statistic sticks out.

“Findings indicate that 83% of alcoholic subjects behaved violently in past relationships, compared to 28% of the normal population.”

Several other researchers have noticed this link. To cite a more recent 2015 study, not only were people dependent on alcohol more likely to engage in “violence perpetration” which included: physical assault, psychological abuse, sexual abuse, [and physical] injuries”, women dependent on alcohol were more likely to be victimized for abuse. Especially due to the prevalence of alcohol abuse and dependence, it’s clear feminists need to pay attention.

4) We have no clear answers on the exact prevalence of alcoholism

Sadly, we have no clear answers on the exact prevalence of alcohol dependence in the Caribbean. How terrifying that no one has bothered to do the research on a population as large as ours and encompassing so many different countries. How troubling that rum has formed the backbone of our economies since Europeans enslaved our people, yet no one has bothered to study the impact this may have had at a cultural level.

The prevalence of alcohol dependence in the general American population is around 6.2%, yet alcohol dependence is often worse in poor and disadvantaged communities. The fact that we have no clear answers, yet face the likelihood that the prevalence is higher than we may expect, means we should step forward to tackle this issue and not just in the face of another highly publicized tragedy.

5) Alcohol abuse is linked to road accidents in teens

Alcohol abuse among adolescents is linked to high-risk driving among new drivers especially as well as more statistically significant cases of road accidents and encounters with the law. I believe that many feminists online (perhaps because many of us are young and do not have children) forget that children’s issues are integral in feminist praxis. Children have no one else in society advocating for them, so when an issue affects children, it typical becomes the responsibility of their primary caregivers (mostly women) to advocate on their behalf.

Of course, any men who want to pick up the mantle are more than welcome to. Anyway, given some of the highly publicized road accidents in Saint Lucia, as well as other news items across the Caribbean and anecdotal experiences which many of us share (I do view our “oral history” so to speak as important), road accidents involving alcohol abuse have the terrifying ability to destroy families and kill children who did not have to be killed. As adults, we shouldn’t blame the children and we shouldn’t blame their parents, but recognize this as a manifestation of a larger cultural issue. If we address the root causes of alcoholism, we will be able to reduce the incidents involving teens and children on the road.

Why do you care about alcoholism in the Caribbean? Or why don’t you? Comment down below and let’s talk about why you think this is important.