The unhealthy use of alcohol is a touchy subject especially now as we get ready to indulge in the joys of the Christmas season where wines, spirits and rum are freely exchanged, sampled and consumed in abundance.
But we can hardly remain silent about a legal drug that has wrecked more lives than any illicit substance.
And on this the 4th Caribbean Alcohol Reduction Day, (CARD), experts have reminded us of an issue deserving of our attention.
They have advised that if you drink alcohol, drink less; if you don’t drink- don’t start.
These days, we are all consumed by the debate on whether our governments should legalise cannabis, for medicinal and sacramental use.
But for all the deserved attention cannabis gets, alcohol overuse remains a persistent public health problem against our stubborn refusal to confront it.
Alcohol is a drug and the facts about its impact on health are sobering.
According to information from the Healthy Caribbean Coalition, alcohol consumption contributes to 3 million deaths each year globally and harmful use of alcohol is responsible for 5.1 per cent of the global burden of disease.
Alcohol is the leading risk factor for premature mortality and disability among those aged 15 to 49 years, accounting for ten per cent of all deaths in this age group.
Alcohol abuse contributes to a number of cancers, liver disease, cardiovascular disease, mental illness, violence, accidents and injuries.
And a major global study published in The Lancet in 2018 concluded that “alcohol is a colossal global health issue’ and there is ‘no safe level of alcohol consumption”.
Here at home, surveys conducted by the National Council on Substance Abuse show that alcohol is the most commonly used drug within the general population, from as early as the primary school through to secondary school.
The Barbados Drug Information Network (BARDIN) reports consistently that alcohol is one of the top three drugs for which people seek assistance from local substance abuse treatment centres.
These facts may not scare anyone into ditching the bottle but they should certainly force all drinkers – habitual and social – to curb the habit.
CARD this year is placing special emphasis on women and alcohol.
Researchers tell us women absorb and metabolise alcohol differently than men. Women achieve higher concentrations of alcohol in the blood and become more impaired than men after drinking equivalent amounts of alcohol.
They are also more susceptible than men to alcohol-related organ damage, including the liver, brain and the heart.
The causes of addiction are complex. Women may abuse alcohol for any number of reasons – depression, loneliness or simply to cope with the pressures of life.
What we cannot do is to turn a blind eye to this health problem.
We tend to think of alcohol abuse as a discrete problem, but it’s a silent call for all to pay attention to family, friends, co-workers who have one too many drinks.
CARD today called on Governments to increase public and policymaker awareness about the burden, drivers and impact of alcohol consumption among women in the Caribbean, sensitise the public about the new World Health Organisation safer alcohol control initiative, strengthen restrictions on alcohol availability, facilitate access to screening, brief interventions, and treatment, enforce bans or comprehensive restrictions on alcohol advertising, sponsorship, and promotion (across multiple types of media) and raise prices on alcohol through excise taxes and pricing policies.
We support CARD’s advocate efforts. It is time Governments heed the call and devise commonsense addiction treatment and prevention policies.