It is legal to consume alcohol in most areas of Malaysia; although it is forbidden to Muslims. Public drunkenness is not tolerated and can get people into legal hot water. Most of the popular tourist destinations and big cities will have a good selection of drinking establishments. Some of the top international brewers have operations in the kingdom. Alcohol is relatively expensive when compared to neighboring countries such as Thailand, but it is cheaper than Singapore.
Before the arrival of Europeans there was hardly any alcohol production or consumption in Malaysia. This was due to a stick adherence to Islamic law which forbids the use of such intoxicants. The only real exception to this was in places such as Sarawak where people traditionally consumed a locally produced rice wine known as tuak. Contact with Europeans during the seventeenth century saw more Malaysians develop an interest in alcohol – mostly wine introduced by the Portuguese. The influx of migrant workers also meant an increased demand for alcohol – the Chinese community began brewing their own beverages. Since the 1930s Malaysia has become the home of many international brewers and distillers – including Guinness and Carlsberg.
Malaysia is a country made up of diverse groups and this means that it would not be possible to identify one single drinking culture. Those who do drink prefer to do so in bars and clubs – drinking at home is not that prevalent. Malaysians of Chinese and Indian heritage are the most likely to consume alcoholic beverages. Most Muslims abstain from alcohol because it is forbidden by their religion. It is illegal to sell alcohol to a Muslim. In some parts of Malaysia there is little or no real drinking culture but most urban areas have plenty of establishments where alcohol can be consumed. According to Malaysian law in any area where Muslims make up more than 50% of the population it will only be possible to purchase alcohol in selected places.
Malaysia is said to be the 10th largest consumer of alcohol in the world. This means that on average they spend $500 million (US dollars) on alcohol each year. The per capita consumption (per unit of the population) is 7 liters – this is less than many western countries, but it is relatively high for Asia. Beer consumption in Malaysia is high and said to be similar to that of European countries. There is some debate within Malaysia as to the veracity of these statistics and that they may be an overestimation of consumption levels. Data from the World Health Organization suggests that overall 35% of males and 64% of females abstain from alcohol. Other data suggests that 35% of non-Muslims who do drink alcohol overindulge.
Binge drinking is a problem – particularly in certain parts of the kingdom such as Sabah and in many urban areas. Binge drinking is where people consume an excessive amount of alcohol because they want to experience the effects of being inebriated. It can be defined as more than 5 drinks in one session for men or 4 drinks in one session for women. This is the most dangerous pattern of drinking for a number of reasons including:
* If people drink this way they are increasing their risk of developing a physical and psychological dependence on this drug. Alcoholism can steal everything of value in a person’s life and can lead them to an early death.
* Binge drinking can lead to alcohol poisoning if the blood alcohol content becomes excessively high.
* This style of drinking can mean that the individual will experience a type of amnesia known has blackouts. This means that the individual will not be able to remember periods of time while they were intoxicated.
* People are more likely to have accidents when they are intoxicated because their decision making ability will be reduced along with their body coordination.
* Binge drinking causes hangovers and this interferes with the ability of people to perform their duties and take care of responsibilities the next day.
* When people drink too much they are more likely to behave in ways that they later regret.
* It can encourage unwise sexual contact and can lead to unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted disease.
* Some people will become verbally or physically violent when they are intoxicated.
* The individual will be more likely to commit crimes or be the victim of a crime.
* This pattern of drinking can lead to ill-health and the development of chronic conditions such as alcoholic liver disease.
The fact that over a third of who drink alcohol in Malaysia may be overindulging is a cause of concern. The dangers associated with this type of behavior include:
* It can lead to full blown alcoholism.
* It can lead to symptoms of depression and other mental health problems.
* There is a close association between alcohol abuse and suicide.
* Overindulgence in alcohol can also be harmful to the economy due to lost productivity because of hangovers or the need to take sick days.
* A culture of alcohol abuse can destroy communities.
* It is associated with both domestic and sexual abuse.
* It increases levels of crime.
* It means that people are unable to meet their family and social responsibilities. This type of behavior is not only bad for them but also for their family and the rest of society.
* Money that should be invested in the family and the future gets wasted on alcohol.
The legal age for alcohol consumption in Malaysia is 18 for non-Muslims – there is no legal drinking age for Muslims as it is against the law for them to consume these beverages. Underage drinking is a problem with 45% of Malaysian youths admitting to consuming alcoholic drinks. This behavior is a real worry because:
* Those people who drink alcohol during adolescents may develop problems related to normal development. During this stage of life the brain and mind is going through an important stage of development and alcohol can interfere with that.
* Drinking alcohol may mean that people perform badly in school or college. This may have a negative impact on their future opportunities on life – it can be hard to find success without suitable qualifications.
* It is strongly associated with teen suicide.
* It can encourage teenagers to engage in vandalism or other criminal acts.
* It can mean that young people become sexually active – they can engage in sex acts that they later regret.
* Those individuals who drink at a young age are more likely to try other drugs. This means that such individuals could be on a path to the hell of lifelong drug addiction.
* It is not necessary for people to drink for many years before they cause grave damage to their mental and physical health.
In order to avoid problems associated with alcohol use it is recommended that people abstain or stick to safe consumption levels which are:
* 1 drink per day for adult females
* 2 drinks per day for adult males under 65 years of age
* 1 drink per day for anyone aged over 65
* Those people who have problems controlling their alcohol intake are advised to abstain completely
The above recommendations are based on the idea that a drink refers to a:
* Standard beer
* Shot of bar measured spirits – not strong spirits
* Bar/restaurant measure of wine – not illegal or traditional wines
Despite the increase of alcohol problems in Malaysia there is a lack in provisions for this group. Currently the best options include:
* Alcoholics Anonymous has groups in many parts of Malaysia including; Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Sarawak, Sabah, Kuantan, Ipoh, and Johor Bahru. This fellowship uses the 12 step program to help people not only quit the addiction but also rebuild their life using spiritual principles.
* It is becoming more common for Malaysians to leave the country in order to benefit from the best possible treatments. DARA Rehab is based in Thailand and is the number one destination for substance abuse rehab help in Asia.