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Integrated approaches needed to address alcoholism in our counties

Alcoholism or alcohol abuse is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as the use of alcoholic beverages that have detrimental health and socio-economic consequences to the users and the society and nation at large. The leadership and especially the counties have been at the forefront in fighting the menace of illicit brews and alcohol for some time now.
Alcoholism affects nation building since most of those taking part in it are in their most productive age.

These efforts have also gained national support arising from the fact that the latest National Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (NACADA) report shows that 48.6 percent of Kenyans (27,042,214 out of 48 million persons) aged between 15 to 65 years consume alcohol. This group represents the persons who are in high school, in universities and institutions of higher learning, working groups and persons who have just retired from the public service. 

The age groups 16-65 years constitute working ages and hence the capital formation periods, and if the majority of such a group are immersed in alcohol and drug abuse, then our counties lose the ingredients for takeoff and development. 
It means also that those who should be preparing to take over the mantle of leadership and national building and those who should be preparing to hand over such responsibilities and also undertaking mentorship and coaching are not available at this critical juncture. This data is worrying because this is the most productive age in a country, and hence if the group is not actively engaged in economic activities, it means that the country and the counties in general are losing out valuable productive time and opportunities for national building.

Alcoholism leads to family breakdowns, loss of incomes as many man hours may be wasted in the process and also is a key ingredient in increasing incidences of poverty (both as direct and indirect costs associated with alcohol addiction) as found by many studies on the subject matter. There is therefore need for concrete and integrated steps to be undertaken to ensure that such a high number of productive people in a country and our counties does not slide into alcohol and drug abuse, but are more integrated into the national development agenda. 

Nationally, a figure that would tally at the targeted counties, the NACADA report indicates that 19.4 percent consume at least one type of alcohol; 12.7 percent consume legal alcohol; 7.0 percent consume traditional liquor; 5.4 percent consume chang’aa and 4.1 percent have been confined to the consumption of portable spirits.

The report also shows increased cases of police officers consuming high amounts of alcohol which has been blamed on the nature of their jobs, tough economic times against low salaries for the majority, which leads to stress, and which in turn makes the officers to revert to heavy consumption of alcohol. 

Too much consumption of alcohol symbolizes despair, depression and joblessness. Care must be taken to ensure that officers access modern counselling and psychosocial support as they are critical to our national security. 

The same statistics would be true for our counties and hence the situation presents a real existential threat to our development. One thing that should be done is to ensure that there is adequate counselling, education, rehabilitation (which uses behavioural approaches to tackle the alcoholism challenge) and support measures for the people who may need help to come out of such challenges.

Secondly, stakeholders should support the application of primary (ensuring that potential alcoholics don’t get there/prevention programmes are important at this stage), secondary (helping alcoholics to return back to non-alcoholics/limiting development of complications in alcoholic users) and tertiary (preventing further damage to the alcoholics, family and community and nation at large. Focuses on preventing harm to others including those who may be affected in future) strategies for the prevention of alcoholism.

Thirdly, is to ensure that alcohol is not available all the time and hence curtail the hours and times it can be accessed and consumed. 

Fourthly, measures to ensure that reverse psychology works such that alternatives to alcohol are placed at convenient places and locations such that there is shift to for example more consumption of water, milk, tea, coffee and other alternatives. This can be made through policy, taxation, publicity, sensitization and advocacy for behavioural changes towards desired direction. 

Fifthly, alcoholism is a society issue and its most effective solution lies with the society which should make social institutions to instill morals, ethical values and practices in youths to avert drinking cultures amongst them.

Above all, increased cases of alcohol consumption can be linked to economic situations and conditions that affect the majority of the culprits, hence there is need for stakeholders to come up with solid ways to address the root causes. There must be wholistic programmes and projects geared towards addressing alcoholism and drug abuse; measures to ensure that there is the re-integration of those who are severely affected by the drugs and alcohol abuse issue; construction, development and operationalization of the affordable, efficient and appropriate rehabilitation centres for alcoholics.

OPINION By Dr. Mutegi Giti

Dr Mutegi Giti is an Urban Management, Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) & Environment Specialist.
Twitter: @DanielGiti.

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