When the lockdown rules were relaxed in some cities last week, state governments also allowed sale of alcohol in retail liquor shops. What followed was long queues outside liquor shops across India, throwing all the physical distancing away. This threw light on the problematic use of alcohol among India.
Even during the lockdown period, there was a reported increase in alcohol withdrawal-related suicides and use of tele-counselling helplines by people with alcohol dependence. Some young people were even reported to be drinking industrial liquors as a replacement to alcohol followed by the deaths and hospitalizations.
Global alcohol surveys have reported that India is world’s second-largest consumer of alcohol, with rising per-capita consumption. Different states in India have different alcohol policies and legal age of consumption, with variable degrees of implementation and almost poor monitoring of these drinking laws.
What is note-worthy is how alcohol has managed to be a civilisation in itself, leaving behind the phenomenon of the civilisations across the globe adapting alcohol in their culture. The history, geography, politics and economy of the nations have very closely collaborated with history, geography, politics and economy of the alcohol. While there are countries like England where pubs and bars are a way of socialising; in India, especially in tribal areas, alcohol had mostly been a part of culture and traditions such as drinking during weddings without any gender bias. Interestingly, over the years the taboo attached with alcohol has slowly turned into a status symbol in adults, a sign of modernism and liberalism in women and a cool trend in adolescents, so much that the children have started drinking at early adolescent age itself. Studies have shown the reduced drinking age over the decades and the changing factors related to drinking among teenagers.
Influence and pressure from friends, rebellious nature of adolescents and curiosity to try things are some of the major reasons why young people start and continue drinking. Family conflicts, relationship issues, stress and anxiety, media influence, copying a favourite celebrity drinking on screen are to name a few more of these. The families in urban area encouraging drinking in their kids while trying to portray themselves as modern parents, pubs and bars in a huge number, opportunities to drink, teenagers drinking to show off their cool quotient are to be responsible for the huge proportion of adolescents drinking. How gender norms play role in drinking is also interesting, girls drinking to feel equal to boys and boys drinking more so that they are not compared to girls.
It is concerning to hear how these younger generations of India have started planning their days and their life with boozing as a centre of the timetable. The stories of how some of them have already ruined the future by getting dependent to alcohol are sad; the helplessness they express is heart-breaking; the accidents in which these people are losing their lives are not just worrying but also prove how badly someone needs to intervene and save this entire generation.
When I was working on a project related to alcohol use in young people a year back, a teenage girl in my neighbourhood met me in a local popular pub. When I was about to leave and said she was observing how much I drink and was happy that I drank within limit, and hence how I was not asking people to follow something which I won’t. The media might be influencing these people’s decisions to drink in the same way.
All one needs to do is tell these younger people that it’s okay not to look cool by drinking, it is okay to be uncool but safe.. and more importantly alive. Though the ban on alcohol will never work, which is proven in some states already, the visible law enforcement will at least be a good step in them drinking at lower risks. The youth of India should know that it is okay to take help and not think about what others think. Like one of these young men from the Goa said- We won’t stop doing something only because some stranger tells us not to. So instead, for once try telling us what to do, we might listen! Till then, cheers!!