By Isaac Asabor
The issue of alcoholism and its debilitating consequences on vital organs in the body of individuals on the one hand, and its negative socioeconomic impact on communities has once again been brought to the fore. As gathered from Statista, a leading provider of market and consumer data, “It is long known that alcohol can pose a significant risk to human health. However, alcohol is consumed worldwide in large amounts, with Seychelles and Uganda reporting the highest alcohol consumption per capita. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that around 3 million deaths are related to harmful use of alcohol worldwide per year – that is over 5 percent of all deaths worldwide. Alcohol consumption is associated with many diseases, such as several types of cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, and cardiovascular diseases. It should be kept in mind that behind all these facts stands a large and established industry. In addition, governments around the world collect billions of dollars in alcohol tax revenues”.
According to WHO, which reported that alcohol kills a whopping three million people worldwide each year, more than AIDS, violence and road accidents put together, it was stated that men, who are more often than not bread winners in this part of the world, are particularly at risk.
According to the WHO, Nigeria ranks second on the list of African countries for heavy episodic drinking. Scholarly sources have backed this claim. Nigerians consumed over 13 liters of alcohol per capita in 2019, making it the leading country in terms of alcohol consumption per capita that year. In fact, the Kingdom of Eswatini and South Africa trailed Nigeria behind as they ranked second and third respectively, with just under ten liters per person.
According to the WHO, alcohol causes more than one in 20 deaths globally each year, including drunk driving, alcohol-induced violence and abuse and a multitude of diseases and disorders. Men account for more than three quarters of alcohol-related deaths.
The report explains that alcohol drinking is linked to more than 200 health conditions, including liver cirrhosis and some cancers. Alcohol abuse also makes people more susceptible to infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, HIV and pneumonia.
For young people, the numbers are even more alarming, with a full 13.5 per cent of all deaths among 20-29-year-olds considered to be alcohol-related, the study found. In comparison, HIV/AIDS was responsible for 1.8 per cent of global deaths in 2016, road injuries accounted for 2.5 per cent and violence for 0.8 per cent. Globally, an estimated 237 million men and 46 million women suffer from alcohol use disorders, WHO said.
Here in Nigeria, particularly within shanty communities, there are many social ills affecting citizens, and alcohol abuse is seen as one of the contributing factors. Considering the unhealthy level of the dangers that are inherent in alcohol, which is unarguably quite high, it is not a misnomer to say that urgent action must be taken to further reduce the risk.
Due to poor lifestyle choice, alcohol abuse has resulted in large numbers of our young people dying. Another significant number have also fallen ill and therefore cannot contribute to their families or the development of their communities in any way.
WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was quoted in the media as saying that far too many people, their families and communities suffer the consequences of the harmful use of alcohol through violence, injuries, mental health problems and diseases like cancer and stroke.
According to experts who have meticulously and studiously carried out research on the menace, alcohol is a trigger for abuse, especially gender based, child and sexual abuse. They had for the umpteenth time reiterated; based on their findings, that some abusers rely on substance use (and abuse) as an excuse for becoming violent, and that alcohol allows the abuser to justify his abusive behavior as a result of the alcohol. Alcohol affects the user’s ability to perceive, integrate and process information. They had in the same vein noted that other substantial costs to society include property damage, job loss and health service costs.
To ameliorate the situation before getting out of hand, WHO has consistently been urging countries to do more to counter harmful drinking and to reach a goal of cutting global consumption by 10 percent before the year, 2025. It is also urging countries to tax alcohol and ban advertising of such beverages to reduce consumption. However, this is not enough, there is need to push for a change in attitude and lifestyle changes in general, especially amongst the younger segment of our population.
While the Government must play a crucial role in designing the relevant programmes and policies and putting in place the necessary legislative framework and other support mechanisms aimed at addressing the harmful use of alcohol, this burden must also be shared by other stakeholders too; such as religious groups, the private sector and other Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) etc.
It is hoped that the Government, international development partners and other stakeholders will use all the authoritative warnings WHO has been sounding on alcohol as a wakeup call to take urgent action aimed at addressing the harmful use of alcohol in Nigeria.