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Opinions of Friday, 20 November 2009

Columnist: Adu-Gyamfi, Kwaku

The National Ticking Bomb: Teenage Alcoholism.


“Alcohol, alcohol, everywhere. Let’s go have a drink”.

This is a wake- up call !

Do you know what kind of liquor or alcohol your teenager drinks? What is the legal alcohol drinking age in Ghana anyway? If you don’t know then I have some news for you.

Yes, our teenagers are drinking any thing that they can get their hands on, but who is watching? We have turned a blind eye to our teens’ problems because we don’t want to deal with it. And, our policy makers have given up on these young people, as if they are not part of the ‘national resources’.

It’s like our trouble-maker uncle who always embarrasses the family during social events. We try to keep him away from the guests. But how long can we keep him away?

These days, alcoholic drinks have become increasingly popular among teens, especially secondary school and college students. The consumption of alcohol by teens can result in increased risk of serious injuries, drunken driving, sexual assault and other dangerous behavior, but no one seems to talk about it. It’s not part of the national conversation-period!

This piece was more or less prompted by the emails from my readers and friends, who expressed their concerns and indignations about the vulnerability of our teens and the impact of their drinking behavior on the nation’s future.

My e-mail box is flooded and clogged with request and complains from friends and readers afar and near urging me to address a very serious national epidemic in Ghana: Teenage Alcoholism.

They wrote to me about the teenage alcoholism as a social and national concern and they want to know the legal hard- liquor drinking age in Ghana, and if there is any agency that regulates alcohol and cigarettes sales in Ghana.

Now forgetting about the use and the proliferation of narcotics and other energy enhancing drugs such as marijuana (wee ) because if the teenagers want to get ‘high’ they have so many avenues from which they can easily obtain their substances. Therefore the issue of hard drug usage among teens should be reserved for another time and another venue.

For now let’s concentrate on alcoholic drink consumption among Ghanaian teens. With the introduction or availability of alcoholic drinks in small sachet like ‘Striker’ or ‘soccer’ ,which costs less than ninety pesewa a sachet, has given them the license to get drunk till they drop with impunity.

Another devotee reader wrote that some parents condone their teens' use of alcohol, especially during funeral celebrations by turning the other way. The point is some adults don’t mind seeing their kids—in their teens--- to have a drink or two—let’s say a few sachets of “soccer” or “striker” on holiday, a beer at the local bar or a glass of the locally distilled drinks during party or funeral wake-keepings.

My questions are: Isn’t it illegal to sell or give alcoholic drinks to minors? Does anyone care about this social ill? And who regulates teens’ alcohol consumption in Ghana? The Foods and Drugs Board, or…..? My inquiring mind wants to know.

Personally, I don’t know if bringing teen alcoholism out in the open is going to matter to our policy makers, or change the tenor, tone or the dynamics or affect the teens’ behavior because we are waiting for better timing or more resources. The list of excuses for inaction and status quo acceptance of the teens’ drinking behavior is long and, of course, useless and valueless. But, one thing I do know is that the more we talk about it the more it’s going to be on national conscious even if we try to push it aside.

To understand the tragic new wave of alcohol abuse, we need to look at what creates the supply and demand for alcohol from the teens’ prospective.

The supply side is a result of access to substantial amounts of liquor on the market with little or no regulation on the licensing of the distribution outlets. So the supply is plentiful and keeps growing at an alarming rate. Cheap and easily, readily available alcohol will hook many teens on alcoholic drinks, which in turn create market for alcohol.

To learn what creates the demand, we need to understand what drives the teens to alcoholism . 1) They have low-self-esteem 2) The constant need to prove themselves as “adults”. 3) They have undetected varying levels of depression. 4) Unemployment, and underemployment. 5) Lack of places for proper recreational activities, after school or during long vacations. 6) Peer pressure and constant need to ’fit-in’ 7) Lack of self-discipline and less respect for parental advice.

8) Home front issues-e.g marital affairs, babies, etc. 9) Lack of real hope and future prospects 10) Unplanned parenthood 11)Ignorance , lack of ambition, unmotivated, immature.

Contributing factors:

All that, and perhaps many more factors can easily trigger depression and push teens to engage in heavy-duty drinking expedition, in order to “feel good and to forget their problems”. Unfortunately they wake up from their sleep only to realize that their problems have gone nowhere and so like the proverbial ostrich, a pressing need to bury its head in the sand.

The Effects: The effects of alcoholism are numerous:

a) Mental health issues (schizophrenia, brain damage) b) Liver and pancreas damage c). Rift between family members, especially couples d) Divorce e) Social misfits f) Unnecessary fights and accidents g) Avoidable burden on the existing, over stretched health budget

h) Rape, teenage pregnancies, spread of STDs. Young consumers of alcoholic drinks are more likely to be the perpetrators or victims of sexual aggression, or to ride with an intoxicated driver or even become injured.

i) Unable to perform tasks because they become too impaired to undertake any activity that requires mental concentration.

Solutions: Giving the teens the reasons to be optimistic, hopeful for the future and protect their brains and lives will be enough incentives to redirect their frustrations and pains to something constructive and worthwhile. That can be done by addressing the underlying factors that push them to drinking and educating the young people about their vulnerability could help many to avoid the pitfalls of addiction.

And the government incorporating the dangers of drug addiction and alcoholism into the school curriculum will be a realistic approach to curb the menace of alcoholism in our society, especially the young ones in schools and colleges.

Also the District Assemblies’ common fund must have a proportion dedicated to youth programs such as annual young leadership summit, reading and writing competition, sport activities, national debate society, join book clubs, and many more productive endeavors.

Teen’s access to alcoholic drinks can be tackled from many fronts. Firstly ,the licensing body that grants permits for the selling of the drinks must enforce the age limit by regular monitoring and investigations at the “blue kiosk” as they are popularly known. The alcohol Distillers and Sellers Association should be educated through formal workshops and seminars about the dangers the alcohol pose to our children. The Sellers and Distillers Association should be encouraged and motivated to set up a fund to educate and treat alcoholism.

The price of alcohol can be pushed up just as tobacco through taxation, but I am afraid my uncle who drinks responsibly, once in a while during funerals will be so furious with such a draconian policy and therefore will not vote during the next election for our local MP, who only comes around in the election seasons. So I’m not going to take you there. And, I know, those who are cashing in on the teens’ liquor consumption will fight such a policy as hard as they can to stop its implementation .In our part of the world anything affecting children or young people doesn’t get the national attention that it deserves. Is it because they don’t vote and therefore have no voice?

In view of the serious adverse health, social and economic effects of alcoholism, the need to address this problem is essential and urgent because the nation’s future is at stake when its future leaders are consuming more booze than books.

Do we really understand, as a nation the crucial links between the mental and economic health of our youths and the health of the nation’s economy? What is the future of the nation, as a whole, and its vulnerable leadership and its inability to survive other emerging economic hardships and social trauma?

Undoubtedly, our inability to find solutions to common human problems and lack of earth-shaking ideas and solutions, are the direct results of total neglect by previous governments to harness and prepare the human capital of our youths, to meet the future needs of the nation. No, I’m not kidding!

That is why our modern day Mps and politicians are more obsessed with owning fleet of cars than building libraries or providing play grounds for the youths in their constituencies. Does any one know the legacies of our Mps? What about our Assembly men and women? Even our teachers don’t care anymore about our teens’ educational needs. What do we care deeply about now, other than TV mobile phones and nice cars? Can we survive as a nation in the next century and beyond when our kids can’t read and hope is a scarce commodity?

Maybe(just maybe), if our youths have world-class schools or public libraries that are stocked with good books, or after-school activity centers, instead of hanging around in the neighborhoods ,towns ,cities and villages doing practically nothing, they won’t resort to booze .They see their rotten future slowing disappearing in front of them. So they need booze to numb their pains and fears. The Ghanaian government and its social institutions have stood mutely by as our teens and future leaders are drinking themselves to death and self-destruction. What a smart way to prepare for the nation’s future and its leadership!

I’m just keeping it real .Can you hear me now?

Kwaku Adu-Gyamfi (The Voice of Reason)

*The author is a social commentator, the founder of Adu-Gyamfi Youth Empowerment Foundation, Educational and Apprenticeship programs for Asuom Youths.