There have, in the past, been many public debates and discussions on alcoholism and the negative effects it has on individuals and society as a whole. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), alcohol kills a whopping three million people worldwide each year — more than AIDS, violence and road accidents combined. It was stated that men are particularly at risk.
WHO’s global status report on alcohol and health 2018 presents a comprehensive picture of alcohol consumption and the disease burden attributable to alcohol worldwide. According to the WHO, the alcohol death rate for Guyana is 5.95 per 100,000 (globally ranked 70). This is still quite high, and urgent action must be taken to further reduce this figure.
In the past, several letters to the Editor of this newspaper had expressed the view that alcohol is being promoted by some chutney singers in their songs. A few years back, Guyanese were being bombarded with “rum songs” which featured characters who resort to rum drinking to ‘end’ their sorrows. Some of these songs are still being featured at concerts and parties across the country.
One letter writer proffered that alcohol is considered to be a “downer” type of drug, so it should not be consumed if one is in a depressed state of mind. In essence, drinking while in a depressed state will certainly contribute to feelings of more depression, and do more harm than good.
The negative effects of drinking too much alcohol can be divided into short-term and long-term categories. The short-term effects of drinking too much alcohol are loss of judgment, loss of coordination, blurred vision, slurring of speech, and loss of balance. These negative effects can cause one to make bad decisions while being under the influence. The long-term effects include loss of brain cells, liver failure, stomach ulcers, high blood pressure, contraction of certain types of cancer, epilepsy, nerve damage, and heart failure. If the abuse of alcohol does not cause immediate problems, then excessive use over a period of time can cause major problems down the line.
Further, alcoholism contributes to a range of social problems; for example, there has been an increase in cases of domestic and other forms of violence in our society. Official statistics show that one in four Guyanese women has been physically abused in a relationship. The increase in domestic violence has been blamed on several reasons, including children being socialised in a society that propagates violence and abuse of alcohol and drugs. While there are many solutions that have previously been put forward to protect our women and girls from experiencing the level of violence we see in our society today, what we know for sure is that there is no one solution to the problem; there needs to be a combination of ongoing measures with the involvement of Government, the Police and the judiciary, religious bodies and other non-governmental organisations, and the communities as a whole, to holistically address the problem.
In addition, research shows that alcoholism contributes to suicide, which has been, and continues to be, a major social problem in Guyana. In Guyana, official statistics show that suicide deaths average between 150 and 200 annually.
The effects of alcohol abuse are well known. Citizens should therefore be encouraged to make better judgments in every situation, in the interest of themselves, families and communities; and ignore the messages that encourage rum drinking.
While it is not our intention to place on alcohol the blame for all our problems, one cannot dispute the fact that it is indeed a contributory factor to some of the social ills we face in our country today. There is therefore urgent need for all stakeholders to redouble their efforts and step up the campaign to spread more awareness and education about the dangers of alcohol abuse.
While the Government must play a crucial role in designing the relevant programmes and policies, and putting in place the necessary legislative framework and other support mechanisms aimed at addressing the harmful use of alcohol, this burden must also be shared by other stakeholders; such as religious groups, the private sector and other non-governmental organisations (NGOs) etc.