It was briefly an issue in Dumaguete: some festivities towards the end of the recent Buglasan Festival happened to coincide with the gun and alcohol ban period before the barangay elections, and posed the grave dilemma of how on earth people could have fun if alcoholic drinks were not allowed?
I’m not sure how that problem was resolved but certainly today, it appears to be accepted that alcoholic drinks are necessarily part and parcel of any public festivity or private celebration.
I myself love my glass of red wine, or gin and tonic as much as others do their own drink preferences, though curiously, I have never been drunk or even overly exuberant with drink.
And now comes a research study in The Lancet, one of the oldest and most respected general medicine journals where three eminent scientists — one a psychiatrist and pharmacologist involved for a decade in the British Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs — present startling findings on alcohol.
Developing a ranking system applying 16 criteria that include the risk to physical and mental health, harm to individuals, crime incidence, social impacts, and even international issues, 20 drugs and substances were studied.
The chart drawn up on the harm score shows alcohol as overall the most Heroin, crack cocaine, and methamphetamine or crystal meth were the most addictive and deadly to the individual.
But because of the sheer numbers of alcohol users and the broad range of negative social effects, alcohol beat even heroin in the harm score. (Tobacco, by the way, ranked 6th in the list. )
We may not have known that alcohol can be a factor in 60 different diseases, but we certainly already knew about alcohol and road accidents, about family finances drained by addiction to drink, or jobs lost because of alcoholism.
Multitudes of battered women and abused children witness to the links between alcohol and domestic violence. And your Monday morning radio news reports abound with stories of men having a good time at the week-end drinking with friends who then beat, stab, hack, or shoot each other. Those news bulletins may be followed by commercials for drinks!
It often seems that the culture of drinking here frequently involves drinking to get drunk, or drinking as a crutch to achieve an altered psychological state allowing a usually male drinker to become assertive, boastful, loud, and louder at his videoke mike, rude to women, or on the other hand, perhaps as temporary anaesthesia.
Young men are particularly vulnerable to unsound drinking habits, but the unregulated and aggressive sale of alcoholic drinks apparently worries no one.
Case in point: Disco dances are held very frequently at the Valencia gym (costing hundreds of people their sleep, but that is another matter.) When I happen to walk the dogs in the late afternoon, the whole street in front of the gym is lined with vendors’ tables laden with nibblers and cigarettes and alcoholic drinks.
No one seems to the vendors, if they have licenses to sell alcoholic drinks, and the Treasurer’s Office thinks this may fall under the allowed category of “domestic liquor” except that no one seems to know for sure what exactly that is.
Then comes the question of the selling of alcoholic drinks to minors, as minors and young people are the population who frequent those disco dances.
The police say they have no way of knowing who is selling what to whom. Actually, the real score is that nobody cares a whit. And why should they when drinking (and drunkenness) is just an accepted fact of life?!
The Lancet report has drawn attention to the heavy health and social costs of that “fact of life.” It has sparked discussions on how to deal with the problem, and one of the responses is to limit availability.
The alcohol companies will howl, and like tobacco companies, will use all means fair and foul to ensure that profitable commerce continues unhampered.
In some countries it seems, getting strict on sales points, raising prices, limiting sale hours, or even declaring alcohol -free occasions are being tried. When the demonstrable harm is significant, government needs to step in. It is doing so with regard to tobacco.
At the very least, young people should be protected from adopting the drinking culture of the older generations.
Some things can be done with regard to advertising, for example. While there’s no hold on national media, local radio stations could, if they wished (and had the ethical gumption) not do commercials for alcohol.
Billboards like the one on Real St. telling men to relax daily with beer could be disallowed, invoking executive prerogative.
Public events could be sponsored by non-alcohol companies. Enforcement of the prohibition on the sale of alcohol to minors needs rethinking to be effective.
None of this means that we can’t enjoy that beer or glass of wine anymore. It’s the excess, the macho drinking, the irresponsible, problem-creating drinking that’s the problem.
Until medical research told us differently, we used to think of smoking as just a form of recreation. We think of drinking as recreation; how are individuals, institutions, and government going to deal with this information about alcohol as a public health, public safety, youth development and social welfare issue?