Alcohol Use in Bangalore – Karnataka

K.V. Rao (kvrao@indnet.org)

Tue, 21 Mar 2000 07:59:17 -0500 (EST)

Alcohol Use in Bangalore – Karnataka Quick one: alcohol use has increased NIMHANS study shows 114% rise in per capita consumption Seema Singh BANGALORE: When Shakespeare asked why men put “an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains”, he did not have statistics to back his query. But today there is ample proof that alcohol changes brain functions radically and irreparably, the most recent being a study conducted by a group of doctors at NIMHANS. According to a house-to-house survey of alcohol and tobacco use in Karnataka, the per capita consumption of alcohol between 1988 and 1998 rose by 114 per cent, though the total number of consumers went up by only 14 per cent.

This roughly translates into average consumption increasing from the equivalent of nine bottles — each bottle contains 750 ml — of whisky per year in 1988-89 to 20 bottles in 1998-99. Men drink far more than women, but women are increasingly using and abusing alcohol.

It is disturbing that there is a four-fold increase in women registering with alcohol-related problems at the de-addiction centre here,” says Dr Vivek Benegal, assistant professor of psychiatry, NIMHANS. However, the most alarming revelations are that the average age at which males start drinking has dropped to 23 years from 25 years in 1988, and that the mean age at which they develop alcohol dependence is 29 years, down from 35 years.

A 302 per cent rise in admissions for alcohol-related neuropsychiatric problems here proves this,” adds Dr Benegal. Ironically, the state government loses more money from alcohol-related industrial losses and the cost of treating related diseases than it gains from excise duty on beverage alcohol. The shortfall is more than Rs 975 crore. In 1995-96, the monetary loss to the Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation due to alcohol-related causes was Rs 55.8 crore. However, thanks to Workplace Prevention of Alcohol and Drug Abuse in collaboration with NIMHANS and the International Labour Organisation, the KSRTC was successful in bringing down its loss by Rs 27 crore.

In terms of social costs, children and women bear the brunt. Alcohol-dependent patients contribute very little or nothing to their families and often incur heavy losses,” notes Dr Pratima Murthy. Even if the situation is compared to other societies, it’s a crazy scenario here. Of the 30 per cent of the population who have admitted to have “ever used” alcohol, 58 per cent drink at harmful levels. On the other hand, in the US, 70 per cent of the population drinks, but only 4 per cent develop alcohol-related problems.

The fault lies in the implementation of existing regulations. Policing should not happen occasionally, on New Year’s eve or Christmas but routinely and with strict penalty,” says Dr Murthy. Dr Benegal, however, believes that a rational pricing policy — not making beer more expensive than spirit — coupled with reduction in demand (and not only reduction in supply) can bring about better control of alcohol abuse. Though advertisements promoting drinking as macho or intrinsic to social grace are blamed, the study shows it’s the rural sector that needs immediate intervention.