Alcoholism and advocacy Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
January 4, 2007

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AN INTERESTING letter appeared in yesterday's issue of this newspaper.

Written by well-known social advocate, Mr. Vidyaratha Kissoon, it takes to task Stabroek News columnist, Dr. Ian McDonald, for his latest column in which he writes about the effects of moderate consumption of alcohol.

"…drinking," Dr. McDonald wrote, "is associated with so much that makes life light and lovely. Take just laughter, love and friendship. Drink goes naturally with laughter. It inspires dull men; it lightens the mood at heavy gatherings; it puts sparkle in conversation; it cuts through gloom with a bright knife. Drink loosens out laughter like a girl loosens down her hair at a party."

According to Mr. Kissoon, such writing should not be encouraged in the local press "Given the horrors endured by many Guyanese citizens from those drinking moderately or not…"

There is advocacy and there is over-advocacy. There is a difference between highlighting a very real social problem and tilting at every windmill which appears even mildly contrary to your prejudices.

"The problem," states Mr. Kissoon, "with the moderation approach to alcohol is that alcohol tolerance varies with age, health, sex, and ethnicity."

Then it would seem, following this logic, that moderation in alcohol consumption is as varied as all the factors listed above. If there can be no predetermined value for what constitutes moderation, then moderation is in itself determined by the individual drinker.

Alcoholism is an addiction to alcohol. While alcoholism cannot logically exist without alcohol, it does not, however, hold true that wherever there is alcohol there is alcoholism. The social effects of alcoholism are well–documented and tragic.

The danger exists in tarring every subject within a given category with the same brush with which one, perhaps legitimately, marks the minority.

HIV/AIDS infection, for example, is prevalent among homosexual men in Guyana, as a recent study has proven. Does it support the claim that homosexuality is in itself somehow responsible for the disease? It does not.

Additionally, there is something to be said when an essay essentially on friendship becomes the target for a position of anti-alcoholism advocacy.

There may be no need to encourage drinking in Guyana as Mr. Kissoon posits, but is it to be considered taboo to chronicle the "bonhomie" a few drinks with friends can bring?

If the pages of the newspapers occasionally feature stories in which one friend kills another after drinking too much, they also feature the carnage brought about by someone speeding on the road. Yet it is doubtful that one would see a letter discouraging the occasional drive out with friends.

The basic point of Mr. Kissoon's letter is valid.

We live in a society where the effects of alcoholism are not given enough consideration in social programmes and where alcoholism is not treated as an illness like in other countries. The establishment of a local chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous might be useful but anonymity in the institutionalised rehabilitation from any vice in a society as small as Guyana might be well nigh impossible.

Breathalyser tests would be excellent, but useless without overall reform of the Guyana Police Force Traffic Section.

Attacking all alcohol consumption, however, instead of the separate problem which stems from its abuse may not be the best way to get that point across.