In our Wednesday edition, we reported on the outraged reaction of Magistrate Tejnarine Ramroop to the avalanche of cases of violence overwhelming the courts in Berbice, precipitated by excessive imbibing of alcohol. Seems that the magistrate went beyond the call of duty and with “another senior member of the bar” conducted a survey, which confirmed the epidemic that was signalled in his courtroom. “The women are as guilty as the men. It’s like a phenomenon on the Corentyne Coast and it’s like nobody seems to care…Rum and more rum. People are taking advantage of the vulnerable, especially in the sugar industry,” the magistrate bemoaned.
The magistrate is not right about alcohol abuse being only a problem on the Corentyne and in the sugar industry – it’s just as bad all over Guyana – but he’s certainly on the ball that no one seems to care. Over two years ago, the Ministry of Health, with great fanfare announced that it was launching an initiative to deal with the rampant alcohol abuse in this country. Unfortunately in its wisdom it chose to subsume the program within the “Drug Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre” then being launched in the Georgetown Hospital compound. And there it has remained…a deep dark secret to the public at large. We wonder why? Could it be, as the good magistrate suspects,”nobody cares”?
Months later, still back in 2008, we suggested (in “Rum till I die”): “the Ministry must launch a countrywide program to educate our populace about alcoholism in simple terms. For example, that alcoholism is a disease that includes the following four symptoms: craving – a strong need, or urge, to drink; loss of control – not being able to stop drinking once drinking has begun; physical dependence – withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety after stopping drinking and tolerance – the need to drink greater amounts of alcohol to get “high”.
The stress has to be on the fact that alcoholism is a disease and like any other disease, it is treatable. Most Guyanese evaluate alcoholics and alcoholism on moral grounds – the individual is said to be “misbehaving” or “playing bad”. Whether this is true or not, this approach descends invariably into moral suasion and ignores the route of utilising the medical and psychological therapeutic treatments that have been proven to have a positive impact in the treatment of alcoholism. Maybe alcoholism cannot be cured, but it is definitely treatable and the moral suasion could possibly be used to convince the alcoholic to seek treatment.
All the approaches to dealing effectively with alcoholism stress the importance of the environment in which the alcoholic – whether recovering, in treatment or recalcitrant – is located. It is important that alcohol is not freely available or alcoholic friends are not the only social network available. In Guyana, however, lax licensing procedures have seen rumshops percolate every nook and cranny of the villages and towns. When most of the villages were laid out there were (and are) strict laws that rumshops could only be located on the front street: this has gone by the wayside. Rumshops are even found cheek and jowl with mandirs, churches and masjids – which expressly contravenes a standing statute on the books.
The Ministry of Health must coordinate its efforts with the Ministry of Housing to recreate a healthy environment that does not almost compel the creation of a nation of alcoholics.”
We would not want to suggest that the rest of society gets a free pass. We cannot continue to pretend that alcohol is any different from the other “drugs” we condemn. Just as drug dealers are ostracised and drug users are shunned, just so we must develop an anti-alcohol culture. This is where the religious bodies come in. All major religions – including Hinduism, Islam and Christianity – have taken firm stands against alcohol abuse. It is high time that they put their money where their mouths are and lead the fight against the scourge from the ground up.
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