Until a couple of decades ago, alcohol consumption to be taboo, almost a crime, for people to drink alcohol in the Nepali society. Those who did, even for cultural reasons, were often looked down upon and derided as Mattwalis (liquor drinkers). The stigma was even greater for women who could not even think about touching alcoholic beverages without being scorned.
But the social disgrace that had surrounded alcohol for centuries didn’t even need twenty years to die out.
Because of increased exposure to international trends, the growth in people’s purchasing power and the general liberalisation of society, alcohol became much more acceptable, fashionable and almost a status symbol after the 90s.
Then, with the rise of the “party” culture, replacing our traditional feasts and gatherings, alcohol found its way and started being linked to occasions like weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, coming-of-age ceremonies etc. It gradually became a mainstay of festivals.
Furthermore, the youths increasingly started associating alcohol with friends and fun. All this has led to pervasive acceptance.
With this pervasiveness has come indulgence, which, during crisis times like the current COVID-19 pandemic, translates to over-indulgence.
The disease, and the lockdown imposed to control it, has left people stressed, anxious, unemployed and tense. In order to process these emotions, people are increasingly seeking the solace of alcohol.
All around the world, the quantity and the frequency of people’s alcohol intake has increased and rehabilitation centres and addiction experts are bracing for an increase in the cases of alcohol dependency after the coronavirus threat is over.
People find it “understandable” that a person would drink “more than usual” in these hard times. In fact, some actually encourage their friends and family members to chug down a few shots because they believe it will help them cope with the pressures of quarantine and distract them from the troubles of the world. Many families are playing drinking games and making “quarantinis” with the increased spare time they have on their hands. Even when people feel that their parent, child or spouse is developing a problem, they initially deny it and try to manage it by getting angry at or threatening the addict. In fact, seeking professional help or counsel is often the last thing families do.
So, for an alcoholic to get necessary help in Nepal is difficult in the best of times. During lockdown, it is damn near impossible. Rehabilitation centres are closed and cannot accommodate people right now because of the need for social distancing. Support meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous have moved online, which, still cannot provide the face-to-face support and human touch that alcoholics often need to recover.
Addiction recovery right now or in the near future is off the table. So, everybody’s focus should be on preventing addiction.
Experts suggest that the best thing to do at the moment is to avoid alcohol altogether, or at least not use it as a coping device to deal with one’s emotions. Family members should monitor each other’s alcohol intake and should become vigilant if they feel that one of them is drinking more than usual– the present difficult situation should not warrant a toleration of heavy drinking.
Drinking games should not be used as a distraction. If people feel they have too much free time, professionals suggest spending it on activities like yoga, meditation, cooking, laundry or social media.
Alcoholism does not announce its arrival. Without realising, one drink turns to two, two turn to four and suddenly, people find themselves unable to function without booze. Previously, social pressures and shaming kept people distant from alcohol but now, when those pressures no longer exist, the onus falls on the family members to not let their loved ones fall prey to this life-destroying habit. We are living in stressful times and thus, we need to be extra vigilant to keep ourselves and our near and dear ones from slipping up.