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22.11.2008 Feature Article

Alcoholism and the Coming Social Crisis in Ghana

Alcoholism and the Coming Social Crisis in Ghana

The young person staggering home, evidently drunk and struggling to avoid the gutter near the “drinking spot”, couldn't have been older than 20. That it was a woman, well-dressed with hair beautifully coiffed, was even more shocking.

She was followed by a group of young men who taunted her. One even tried to grab her breasts, but she clumsily brushed him off, raining slurred insults on them as she zigzagged away.

From the drinking spot, her male drinking partners, seemingly weighed down by their own drunken stupor, tried to call her back but she would have none of that. She hurled some insults at them and then continued on her tortured and tortuous journey away from them.

This spectacle, which I witnessed during a recent visit to the Eastern Region, is indicative of the moral quagmire that the nation finds itself in today and the disproportionate effect that it is having on our youth, the putative future leaders of Ghana. By extension, it is also a foreshadowing of the social crisis that awaits us in the next 10 to 15 years as these young men and women become parents and heads of households wrecked by alcoholism and its associated social ills.

Already, doctors are reporting a steady rise in cases of fetal alcohol syndrome, where children are born already drunk because their mothers drank heavily during pregnancy. Such children will require a great deal of medical care, which will tax an already-overburdened and under-resourced health system. Those who do not get this care – and there will be many – would end up being at once a burden and a loss to society, from alcoholics to criminals to loafers who live off the sweat of others. They will be the architects and carpenters and masons and accounts whom we would need for national development but would not have because they were sick and uneducable.

Among men, liver diseases, often associated with alcoholism, are also reported to be on the increase. The economic and social implications – now and in the future – are many. Extended absenteeism from work by these victims of excessive alcohol consumption means loss of family income and a step towards poverty, or further into poverty.

Those unable to afford the expensive treatment for kidney diseases may eventually die, leaving behind single-parent families to fend for themselves. To the degree that single- parent families are more likely to be poor, this too undermines any national efforts at “poverty reduction”.

If these trends continue, a significant proportion of Ghanaian families in the not-too-distant future would look something like the following: An alcoholic child living with two alcoholic parents. There will be the inevitable drain on the family budget, as both father and mother spend scarce family resources on what they do best – boozing. There will be the usual loud arguments and physical fights characteristic of alcoholics, in full glare of helpless and terrified children, leading to emotional and psychological harm to these children. Where the police and other legal institutions, such as the courts and Department of Social Welfare, are involved, there would be still further drain on society's scarce resources, depriving other sectors – such as education – of those resources.

There are no current statistics on the extent to which alcoholism may be a problem in Ghana, but the Fourth Ghana Living Standards Survey (2000) gave some indication of the nature of the problem then. We can extrapolate from that. According to the survey, 10.3% of household expenditures went into “alcohol and tobacco”, second only to “food and beverage”, which commanded 45.6%. (“Household goods, operation and services” accounted for 6.0%, with “medical care and health expenses” taking up 4.6%).

These statistics were generated long before alcohol consumption became chic among Ghana's youth and alcohol commercials, featuring young and popular artistes and obviously aimed at the young and impressionable, became ubiquitous on our airwaves. Things are likely to have worsened since then.

Nii Moi Thompson
Nii Moi Thompson, © 2008

This author has authored 3 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: NiiMoiThompson

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