The average age of initiation to alcohol in Kerala has fallen from around 19 years to 13 years in the last two decades, said Dharav Sunil Shah, consultant psychiatrist and national consultant, Alcohol and Drug Information Center (ADIC-India), a registered Substance Abuse Prevention NGO.
Citing the findings of the study conducted by ADIC-India, Dr. Shah warned Kerala of going down the path of Punjab, which has emerged a hotbed of drugs.
“The acceptability of alcohol in Punjab community was one of the contributing factors that made it easier for drugs to penetrate. Kerala should also realise that its acceptability of alcohol could also prove to be a gateway for drugs. If we want to convince the youngsters that the life of addiction is not good then we have to start right from alcohol,” he told The Hindu on the sidelines of the Asian Regional Forum Against Drugs here on Thursday.
Cultural values make a difference in the magnitude of the problem and Kerala’s cultural acceptance of alcohol is already creating a huge problem for it.
“Taking off alcohol from parties and celebrations will send across a strong message to the next generation. Community leaders will have to take the initiative in denormalising alcohol,” said Dr. Shah.
Alcohol remained so normalised in the society that children would view it as a substance, which they could use once they were old enough. Worse still, it was seen as a sign of growing up, he said.
“Alcohol continues to enjoy the social acceptability, which was reserved for tobacco about 50 years ago. But as per the Global Burden of Disease Study, alcohol remains the single biggest cause for death and disability over tobacco among the age group of 15-29 while the World Health Organisation cites 18% each of murders and suicides as attributable to it.
“Despite ruining families and stripping children of their childhood, we continue to regard alcohol as a safe party drink fit enough to adorn our showcases,” said Dr. Shah who has held nearly 450 lectures in educational institutions and runs a YouTube channel ‘Poisons We Love” targeting the youth.