While our country is developing economically, this epidemic has the potential to turn it all into vain…

Alcohol consumption has been rapidly rising in the developing countries of the world especially India & China; while traditional markets in Europe are showing declining trends of alcohol consumption.   Alcohol companies are also focusing their attention on these new upcoming potential markets, targetting the youth through various promotional strategies. And they are getting good results – sales of alcohol are increasing by 6 to 8 % every year!

As alcohol is becoming more & more trendy amongst youngsters and as its easy of availability is increasing, the age of initiation of drinking it has been decreasing rapidly. In Kerala, the percentage of drinking population under 21 years has increased from 2 to 18%; and age of initiation has decreased from 19 to 13.5 years in just the past 2 decades!!Similar trends are being seen in all states

Average age of initiation of alcohol use in Kerala

Year 1986 1990 1994 1998 2002 2006
Age (yrs) 19 17 15 14.5 14 13.5

Source:  Johnson J. Edayaranmula, ADIC-INDIA, 2007 Drinking Patterns in Kerala,

Because the bodies and brains of young people, especially teenagers, are still developing; they are more sensitive to the damaging effects of alcohol use. Studies around the world are conclusively underscoring that early alcohol use results in a much higher risk of alcohol dependence and abuse.

In this age of equality, women are catching up too! With drinking alcohol becoming an accepted social norm which even well educated men indulge in, women are also increasingly joining their male counterparts in experimenting with this addiction and are falling prey to it. A recent study in Karnataka reported no major difference between the amounts of alcohol drunk by men or women on any typical drinking occasion.

Paradoxically, centres of higher education are becoming breeding grounds for the spread of substance abuse! Youngsters are going to bigger towns and living in hostels where they are largely unsupervised and the peer pressure to take addictive substances is high. Also a lot of youngsters have a lot of spare money and the result is obvious. Hence it has become imperative that before a child steps in college, parents educate their children thoroughly about the truth of these addictive poisons.

Studies have shown that in countries with growing economies where the purchasing power is increasing, if there is an unregulated alcohol-policy environment, there is a rapid increase in alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harm. A large proportion of benefits of development gets squandered over alcohol. Lets see what happened in Thailand, which experienced the development boom a few years ahead of us. Historically, alcohol use by Thai people was low. But then around 40 years back, politicians made laws favouring the alcohol industry claiming that it will help the economy (something very similar to what is being witnessed in India now). The result is that, recent surveys show that around one third of their population has started to drink; and 22.7% of the Thai drinkers have alcohol use disorders! The per head alcohol consumption has increased 33 times, from 0.26L in 1961 to 8.47L in 2001; and there is a pronounced rise in the rates of drinking among young women too! Correspondingly there has been an increase in alcohol related harm like deaths from liver diseases, frequency of traffic accidents, family violence, etc.

We need to wake up to this epidemic if we don’t want India to go the Thailand way. Unless we urgently educate youngsters in our families & vicinity and unless we press for better legislative control over the sale of addictive poisons like alcohol & tobacco, a grim future awaits our next generation….

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