WHO: Alcohol Deaths Greater than HIV/AIDS, Violence or Tuberculosis

I was invited to go out to a nightclub lastnight. I don’t normally go out anymore as I see it as an empty use of time. However, I felt inspired to go and decided to observe. I am not unfamiliar with nightclubs and pubs as I am Australian. In this culture you grow up with alcohol. I started drinking when I was 15. I used to go to over 18 places and meet people. In those early years I got drunk very easily and was indeed vulnerable. However, I also had dutch courage where I was fearless.

In my experience I don’t know how many times I saw young people throwing up, or unconscious on the pavement. I saw heaps of fights and broke up quite a few. As a result of drinking I would hitch hike as I had no fear.

So many people use alcohol to feel socially at ease as we are not dealing with our internal discomfort. In truth we are meeting strangers and it is quite natural for people to not feel at ease until they get to know others. Alcohol becomes that social lubricant, but it is a false stimulant and you see people not as they are, but as you are.

In balanced situations a glass can be fine but in cultures like mine people are not stopping at one. Young people are going out and binge drinking. I can relate to that I used to take a cask out at 15 as I couldn’t afford drinks. Today people all drink before they go to avoid high prices. They ultimately want to have a good time and meet people but it is a toxic substance and it has serious health effects.

I remember both smoking and drinking and getting full leg cramps the next day. I would have a hang over and have to drink heaps of water as I was so dehydrated. It makes you very tired, I used to get dizzy a lot when I stood up as the toxins in my body were affecting me. There was a point where a friend made a comment to me that she was worried about how much I was drinking. It was around that time that I slowed down. I also met my husband and I settled down into life and slowed the drinking and got my life in order. I can remember the addiction of it and really feeling I had to have it. I wasn’t an alcoholic but I felt the need for it. Culturally this was reinforced, praised and encouraged by advertisements on television and sporting matches. As a former market analyst I have reflected on the social ill of alcohol and how it is particularly pitched to me indicating they are real men, to make them think that it is a sign of belonging, to generate a social norm through alcohol consumption. If only men realised they are the pawns here, they are pitched at because of their insecurities but the advertising will make them feel like they are real men and will get the girls. The purpose is profit, it has nothing to do with men being men. They have been manipulated to purchase more and if they don’t drink they are sissy’s (girls). This is the lie pitched yet men believe it is who they are, it is the only way they can bond with other men and meet people in a world speeding up. How many times have we seen men around a bar smiling or silent as they need a drink to relax, to escape, to feel free for a little while as they also find life hard to cope with at times. I don’t know if many really talk about their problems, I hope they will increasingly do so, as they need to face the emotional world that is all around them. Escaping or compartmentalising it will not help it only prolongs the pain. So drinking is acceptable and seen by many as necessary. Hence the resistance to banning it. People are addicted and feel they have to have it to function and have some joy, which in my view is an extremely unhappy existence.

Many adults lead young people by example and use it to de-stress from work or family problems, but as I said earlier it is a false god and it leads us down a path of being lost and empty. The violence we see in domestic situations or on the streets is usually drug or alcohol induced as people suppress their emotions and they flood out in an erruption of anger as many are taught to hide their feelings. Moreover, we are hearing more about sexual abuse of children or neglect where parents aren’t capable of looking after them or the children witness their violence which sets up so many emotional problems in their future. Alcohol infused sexual relations between women and men are typically about the physical and not deep or meaningful. After quite a few drinks they can be clumsy and based on lust. Situations of rape are more likely to arise due to alcohol abuse, sexual frustration and lack of empathy given oppressions in our society where people do not know what healthy, fun and freeing interactions are about.

A change of pace here back to my story last night – I am a clown and I pick up energy in people as that is part of my skill in clowning on the streets, I am very sensitive to people’s moods as I move into people’s spaces. I am not there to confront or upset, I am here to bring joy, so I am quick to sense their boundaries. So going to this nightclub last night was interesting as I hadn’t been for a long time. What I felt straight away was the social awkwardness of the men and women. It was very strange for me to really feel this fear in so many people. I immediately saw the need in the men as they stood there with their glasses of alcohol watching women. There was little conversation just the background noise of the music.

I also reflected on the mining industry here where many come and blow their money in Perth. They work 3 weeks on and 1 week off, so they would be hanging out for company. Many marriages go belly up as they are not home enough. So it is an unhealthy imbalance. I found myself not wanting to make eye contact as they seemed hungry. I felt so sad for them. They were seeking happiness outside of themselves. I am a clown and I know in my own life that happiness is an inside job, you have to find your own happiness in your life, your talents and creative expression. People can’t make you happy, only you can. How often do we hear of people marrying and then saying later they changed. As Byron Katie says (thework.com) no two people have met. They only see the other through their own projections of what they fantasize them to be. In truth it is they who changed their perceptions, hence the other changed in their minds. To see all these people standing around waiting for happiness reminds me of the sign – Happiness Waiting Room – it is a joke sign but it is true. The music and alcohol are there as social lubricants but it is not a beautiful way to meet another person and form a friendship. In my case it was very interesting. I happened to stand next to a Mexican guy. Who was curious about me. He asked what I do ‘I said I am interested in peace’. I told him I am a clown, that always gets eyebrows going as I can look like a business person and successful given how I dress. We made reference to the Mayans in Mexico, the Incas and the Aztecs. We spoke a little about the Spanish conquering central and south America. I told him the biggest single problem for Mexico is the crime gangs. He said ‘I don’t want to talk about it’. He gets upset. So we ended up sitting on a bench outside the nightclub speaking about spirituality, the illusion of happiness and the deeper meaning of life as we got to know each other better. He said to me before he went out he asked in his heart that he wanted to meet a deep person. He was tired of the superficial conversations.  I smiled and told him, you created this. Now many reading this will say – what? how is that possible? I believe we create our reality, our thoughts electromagetically attract and we draw people to us, check out the law of attraction that will give you information. I myself actually hadn’t wanted to go out but I felt spiritually inspired to go, impulsed. So I thought I will check it out and see what unfolds. This man was the only one I spoke with and he said he felt his soul expanding, he felt good.  We had a really good exchange. He walked me to my car. I saw a woman juggling on the street and asked for a go. She was from France and busking.  She gave me the clubs so I juggled. He smiled watching. Another guy came and had a go, it was lovely to create that. I had a go at the balls and threw one under my leg. The guys were smiling. I could feel myself connect to clown mode. My friend had a go but wasn’t that comfortable although he was experiencing something different to a nightclub. It was life, it was spontaneous life, it was getting into it, it was innocent and free. Perhaps as a clown I could offer more to people to remind them of the real life rather than drugging themselves to feel happy.

Perhaps we meet again, maybe not. I feel only happiness either way, as my happiness is not dependent on him nor alcohol or drugs. I am high on life.   I feel peacefull and safe, all ways.

The article I have linked here is from the World Health Organisation.  It is entitled ‘Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health’.  Refer for full report http://www.who.int/substance_abuse/publications/global_alcohol_report/msbgsruprofiles.pdf I noticed in the acknowledgements a few Australians from Fitzroy a well known drug services area in Melbourne and the University of Melbourne were involved. Good to see – good on ya!

WHO depicts the statistical profile.  It should be noted that these are estimates as no-one can gain 100% statistical evidence of alcohol. However, giving this more thought statistics could be compiled by alcohol retailers and also by government who tax alcohol. This latter issue I feel is significant and will blog it in the next blog. I sense the problem is much worse than we realise.  For myself as a clown it masks the deeper unhappiness in societies and the reality that most peope are not happy.  Moreover, 1:4 in my society have a mental illness of some form.  This tells me that they are resisting life, trying to cope and feeling great negativity within.    Alcohol initially makes you feel good and then it just distorts reality.  It is a toxic drug dumbing down society and revealing the social problems that lay beneath the surface.  Until we educate our society in values, empowerment and true sustainable living where we start to balance our energy and begin to look at work as vocational, family as love relationships and society as community, we will express this imbalance in violence, loneliness, bitterness and depression.  As a clown I wish I could give everyone a hug and say you are of value and create the life you truly want, don’t be fooled by the allure of the lights, the music and the alcohol it has nothing to do with love.   I, of course am a fool for peace, so I use my foolish to create happiness or I may challenge others creatively to rethink.  Be a light in the darkness for others and lead your life as an example of true happiness.  You will never look back.

So my primary question relating to the topic of alcohol –  Why is alcohol available given its documented social harm?

Here is the introduction from the WHO report click the link for more information (above).

Introduction

The public health objective on alcohol of the World Health Organization (WHO) is

to reduce the health burden caused by the harmful use of alcohol and, thereby,

to save lives, reduce disease and prevent injuries. The hazardous and harmful use

of alcohol is a major global contributing factor to death, disease and injury: to the

drinker through health impacts, such as alcohol dependence, liver cirrhosis, cancers and

injuries; and to others through the dangerous actions of intoxicated people, such as drink–

driving and violence or through the impact of drinking on fetus and child development.

The harmful use of alcohol results in approximately 2.5 million deaths each year, with a

net loss of life of 2.25 million, taking into account the estimated beneficial impact of low

levels of alcohol use on some diseases in some population groups. Harmful drinking can

also be very costly to communities and societies.

This report provides comparable global information on: the consumption of alcohol (Section 1); the consequences of the harmful use of alcohol (Section 2); and the policy responses (Section 3). The four appendices include: country profiles for all 193 WHO Member States (Appendix I); a set of additional indicators (Appendix II); a table of comparable alcohol consumption data (Appendix III); and a section explaining data sources and methods used in this report (Appendix IV).

Alcohol consumption and problems related to alcohol vary widely around the world, but the

burden of disease and death remains significant in most countries. Alcohol consumption is

the world’s third largest risk factor for disease and disability; in middle-income countries,

it is the greatest risk. Alcohol is a causal factor in 60 types of diseases and injuries and

a component cause in 200 others. Almost 4% of all deaths worldwide are attributed to

alcohol, greater than deaths caused by HIV/AIDS, violence or tuberculosis. Alcohol is also

associated with many serious social issues, including violence, child neglect and abuse,

and absenteeism in the workplace.

 

Yet, despite all these problems, the harmful use of alcohol remains a low priority in public

policy, including in health policy. Many lesser health risks have higher priority.

The harmful use of alcohol is a particularly grave threat to men. It is the leading risk

factor for death in males ages 15–59, mainly due to injuries, violence and cardiovascular

diseases. Globally, 6.2% of all male deaths are attributable to alcohol, compared to 1.1%

of female deaths. Men also have far greater rates of total burden attributed to alcohol

than women – 7.4% for men compared to 1.4% for women. Men outnumber women four

to one in weekly episodes of heavy drinking – most probably the reason for their higher

death and disability rates. Men also have much lower rates of abstinence compared to

women. Lower socioeconomic status and educational levels result in a greater risk of

alcohol-related death, disease and injury – a social determinant that is greater for men

than women.

 

The world’s highest alcohol consumption levels are found in the developed world, including

western and eastern Europe. High-income countries generally have the highest alcohol

consumption. However, it does not follow that high income and high consumption always

translate into high alcohol-related problems and high-risk drinking. Western European

countries have some of the highest consumption rates but their net alcohol-attributable

mortality rates are relatively low, though their alcohol-related disease burden may be

high. Many eastern European countries have the highest consumption, risky patterns

of drinking and, accordingly, high levels of alcohol-related deaths and disabilities. Every

fifth death is due to harmful drinking in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Outside of the Russian Federation and some neighbouring countries, rates of disease and

disability attributable to alcohol are also quite high, for example, in Mexico and in most

South American countries.

 

Worldwide consumption in 2005 was equal to 6.13 litres of pure alcohol consumed per

person aged 15 years or older. A large portion of this consumption – 28.6% or 1.76 litres

per person – was homemade, illegally produced or sold outside normal government

controls. However, despite widespread consumption, a higher percentage of people

currently do not drink at all. Almost half of all men and two thirds of women have not

consumed alcohol in the past year. Abstention rates are low in high-income, high-

consumption countries, and higher in North African and South Asian countries with large

Muslim populations. Female abstention rates are very high in these countries. Abstention

from alcohol is very important in the global picture on alcohol consumption; it is one of

the strongest predictors of the magnitude of alcohol-attributable burden of disease and

injuries in populations. Obviously, lifetime abstention from alcohol means exemption from

personal alcohol-attributable disease, injury and death. Because abstention is so prevalent

in the world, any diminution in abstention trends could have a big impact on the global

burden of disease caused by the harmful use of alcohol.

 

Heavy episodic drinking is another important pattern of drinking because it leads to serious

health problems, and is particularly associated with injury. About 11.5% of drinkers have

heavy episodic drinking occasions. Heavy episodic drinking is not the only measure of

harmful drinking, but data for this aspect of the drinking pattern were not available in

many countries. The pattern of drinking score, reflecting the frequency and circumstances

of alcohol consumption and the proportion of people drinking alcohol to intoxication, is

among the lowest, i.e. less risky, in western European countries, while it is the highest

in the Russian Federation, and in some neighbouring countries. Risky patterns of drinking

are also highly prevalent in Mexico and southern African countries.

 

Harmful alcohol consumption is risky both for the drinker and for other people. An

intoxicated person can put people in harm’s way by involving them in traffic accidents or

violent behaviour, or by negatively affecting co-workers, relatives, friends or strangers.

A survey in Australia found that two thirds of respondents were adversely affected by

someone else’s drinking in the past year. Alcohol consumption also affects society at large.

Death, disease and injury caused by alcohol consumption have socioeconomic impacts,

including the medical costs borne by governments, and the financial and psychological

burden to families. The hazardous and harmful use of alcohol also impacts on workers’

productivity. Perhaps the biggest social impact is crime and violence related to alcohol

consumption, which create significant costs for justice and law enforcement sectors.

 

Contrary to the belief of many people, the health, safety and socioeconomic problems

attributable to alcohol can be effectively reduced. Many evidence-based alcohol policies

and prevention programmes are shown to work. One of the most effective is raising

alcohol prices by raising taxes. This has the added benefit of generating increased

revenues. A recent analysis of 112 studies on the effects of alcohol tax increases affirmed

that when taxes go up, drinking goes down, including among problem drinkers and youth.

Implementing and enforcing legal drinking ages for the purchase and consumption of

alcohol is another effective way to reduce alcohol-attributable problems, as is the setting

of maximum blood alcohol concentrations (BACs) for drivers and enforcing them with

sobriety checkpoints and random breath testing. These are effective and cost-effective

ways to reduce alcohol-related traffic accidents.

 

Yet, not enough countries use these and other effective policy options to prevent death,

disease and injury attributable to alcohol consumption. Since 1999, when WHO first

began to report on alcohol policies, at least 34 countries have adopted some type of

formal policies. Restrictions on alcohol marketing and on drink–driving have increased

but, in general, there are no clear trends on most preventive measures. A large proportion

of countries, representing a high percentage of the global population, has weak alcohol

policies and prevention programmes that do not protect the health and safety of the

populace.

 

This report is another milestone in WHO’s efforts to monitor the situation with alcohol

consumption, alcohol-related harm and policy responses worldwide.

 

Mohandas Gandhi

“Gentleness, self-sacrifice and generosity are the exclusive possession of no one race or religion.”

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