How much is too much alcohol?
DRINKING alcohol plays an important social role in many cultures, especially during the festive period at the end of the year.
While we make merry, we should also be mindful to do things in moderation and to advise our children and grandchildren to do the same.
While most countries have laws regulating their production, sale, and consumption, some countries ban such activities entirely. However, alcoholic beverages are legal in most parts of the world.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO)’s Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health 2014, Malaysians spent over US$500mil (RM1.5bil) on alcohol with a per capita consumption of seven litres. Beer consumption alone in Malaysia is 11 litres per capita.
In Malaysia, the majority of consumers of alcoholic beverages are male and the number of men who consume alcohol is three times more than women.
Interestingly, the number of heavy drinkers among women is higher than men (80% vs 50%).
A majority of alcohol consumers are from the urban population. Comparisons between 14 states in Malaysia have shown that Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur has the highest number of alcoholic beverage consumers followed by Sarawak and Sabah. Kelantan has the least number of alcohol beverage consumers.
The majority of alcohol consumers are between the ages of 20 and 24.
The adverse effects of alcohol consumption such as feeling remorse or guilty after drinking, blackout and inflicting harm to self or others have been recorded to be higher among the rural population compared to the urban.
Globally, harmful use of alcohol is the leading risk factor for death in males aged 15-59. Women were found to be more vulnerable to alcohol-related harm from a given level of alcohol use or a particular drinking pattern. The vulnerability of females to alcohol-related harm is a major public health concern because alcohol use among women has been increasing steadily in line with economic development and changing gender roles.
Genetic risk factors have also been found to contribute to alcohol dependence. Surveys and mortality studies in developed countries suggest that there are more drinkers, more drinking occasions and more drinkers with low-risk drinking patterns in higher socio-economic groups, while abstainers are more common in the poorest social groups. Those with lower socio-economic status appear to be more vulnerable to the consequences of alcohol consumption.
Alcohol-related problems are a matter of concern in many countries. Alcohol causes psychiatric and physical complications for those who are dependent. Difficulties related to alcohol abuse not only affect family members but also result in social problems such as motor vehicle accidents, absenteeism from work and the increased cost of healthcare.
The Malaysian Road Safety Council estimates that drinking and driving causes 30% of road accidents nationwide, with 38% of these resulting in fatalities.
Given the fact that Malaysia is classified as low consumption of alcohol per capita, there have not been any changes in the socio-demography of alcohol drinkers and the drinking pattern throughout the years.
It is important to address the issue of young children who are consuming alcohol at an early age and the prevalence of current alcohol drinkers are increasing.
Therefore, immediate measures must be taken to curb the detrimental effects of alcohol towards the younger generation and targeted harm reduction or minimisation programme towards the high risk group is required.
Families should spend some time raising awareness among the younger generation and advising them about the effects of alcohol abuse.
This festive season, senior citizens can help reach out to their grandchildren and perhaps share stories about the benefits of moderation.
This article was written with the assistance of contributing author Dr Jaya Kumar. Dr Rashidi Mohamed Pakri Mohamed is a lecturer and family medicine specialist at the Department of Family Medicine, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.