Alcohol is banned in some parts of India such as Manipur and Gujarat, but it is legally consumed in the majority of states. There are believed to be 62.5 million people in India who at least occasionally drink alcohol. Unlike many western countries the consumption of alcohol in India is witnessing a dramatic rise – for instance, between 1970 and 1995 there was a 106.7% increase in the per capita (this means per individual in the population) consumption. International brewers and distillers of alcoholic beverages are keen to become popular in India, because it is potentially offers the third largest market for their product globally. India has also become one of the largest producers of alcohol – it produces 65% of alcoholic beverages in South-East Asia. Most urban areas have witnessed an explosion in the number of bars and nightclubs that have opened in recent years.
India is a vast sub-continent and the drinking habits vary greatly between the different states. It is therefore impossible to describe a single drinking culture for the whole of India. Those who live in the south western state of Kerala are the heaviest drinkers. People who live in this state drink an average of 8 liters per capita, and this is four times the amount of the rest of India. Other areas of the continent where people tend to drink relatively heavily include Haryana and Punjab. In some parts of India there is hardly any drinking culture to speak of – in some of these places alcohol is banned completely. In recent years there has been a noticeable rise in the number of urban males who claim to use alcohol as a means to relax. It still tends to be the poor and those who live in rural areas that are the highest consumers of alcohol. It is believed that as little as 5% of alcohol consumers are female – although this figure is higher in some states.
Indians prefer hard liquors and distilled spirits over beers – 80% of consumption involves these stronger beverages. It is suggested that 20% of the population has at least tried alcohol. In the past two decades the number of people who have consumed alcohol has moved from 1 in 300 to 1 in 20. The Lancet reported that more than half of those who consume alcohol in India would fall into the category of hazardous drinking. It has been suggested that there are a worryingly 14 million people in India who would be described as dependent on alcohol and in need of help. Another concern is the increasing tendency to engage in binge drinking where people deliberately become intoxicated.
It is not necessary for people to drink alcohol every day in order for them to develop problems. In fact the most dangerous pattern of drinking is binge drinking where the individual consumes an excessive amount in a short period of time. The individual might only drink once or twice a week but they can still suffer from negative consequences such as:
* If the person’s blood alcohol concentration rises too fast it can lead to alcohol poisoning. This state of inebriation can be potentially fatal.
* Binge drinkers can cause damage to almost every organ in their body – it can also lead to fatty liver which is the first stage in alcoholic liver disease.
* This pattern of drinking puts the individual at risk of developing alcoholism. Once the individual reaches this stage it can mean that alcohol completely takes over their life.
* It can lead to blackouts – this is where people have no memory of their actions for a period of time.
* Some people react badly to intoxication. They can become aggressive and do things they later regret.
* Hangovers can mean that the individual is unable to fulfill their responsibilities the next day after binge drinking.
* It can trigger symptoms of depression.
India once had a reputation as having a culture that promoted abstinence towards drugs like alcohol. Things have changed and there is now serious problems arising due to alcohol abuse – some would say that there were always problems associated with alcohol use in India but in the past it was less reported. The implications for this rise in alcohol related problems include:
* An increasing number of people are becoming dependent on alcohol. This makes it difficult for them to function normally within society.
* Domestic and sexual abuse is often associated with alcohol abuse.
* This type of behavior can be damaging to communities.
* Those individuals who engage in this type of behavior can begin to fail in their ability to meet family, social, and work commitments.
* Families can suffer financially as a result of this type of substance abuse.
* Business and the economy suffer because of lost productivity with people coming to work still suffering from the effects of alcohol.
* Drink driving is responsible for many road deaths.
Underage drinking is becoming a problem in India. Different states will have different age limits for alcohol consumption – the age limit in those states where it is legal to drink range from 18 to 27 years old. It is common for people to begin drinking before the legal age limit. The problems of underage drinking include:
* For those young people who are still in adolescence, it can interfere with their normal development if they consume alcohol. This type of behavior can particularly interfere with crucial mental development that occurs at this age.
* Underage drinking is closely related to teen suicide.
* It encourages sexual promiscuity.
* Those people who drink at an early age are far more likely to develop alcoholism.
* It can mean that these young people perform badly at school or college. This means that their opportunities in the future will be limited.
* Even those who are young can develop alcoholism and all the physical and mental problems that come with this.
* There are many teenagers who use alcohol as a stepping stone to harder drugs.
If people wish to avoid alcohol problems they need to stick to the recommended levels for safe alcohol consumption which are:
* 2 drinks per day for adults under the age of 65.
* 1 drink per day for anyone aged over 65.
* 1 drink per day for women.
* If people have had problems controlling their alcohol intake they should quit completely.
In the above recommendations a drink is considered to be:
* A standard beer
* A glass of wine
* A standard bar shot of branded spirits – not strong spirits or traditional spirits
There is help for people who have developed problems with alcohol in India including:
* Alcoholism and Drug Information Centre is devoted to prevention and treatment of substance abuse in India. They are a good resource to turn to for information and advice.
* Alcoholics Anonymous has meetings in many locations in India. This fellowship uses the 12 Steps to allow the individual to develop a better life away from addiction.
* Youth Veerangnayen focuses its efforts on educating young people about the dangers of substance abuse and helping them deal with other social problems.
* Many people are leaving India in order to seek treatment for their alcoholism abroad. The most respected alcohol and drug abuse treatment facility in Asia is DARA Rehab.