A large population of Punjab do not consider alcoholism a serious problem like drug addiction due to its acceptability socially, feel de-addiction experts. Punjab is among the top three states in terms of liquor consumption, reveals a recent national survey, conducted by the Union government on drugs/substance use, which adds that a thin number of alcoholics come for treatment and the state has been presenting a similar picture.
Dr Sandeep Bhola, head of Psychiatric Department Civil Hospital, Kapurhala, and other experts in de-addiction, say that a large number of people mostly middle-aged, including women, are affected from alcoholism in Punjab. Mostly, they are from poor economic background.
As per the survey, conducted by Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, in collaboration with National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre of AIIMS, one in about 38 alcohol-dependent people in India come for treatment and one in about 180 people with the affliction are hospitalised. Experts in Punjab say the state has been presenting a similar picture. They say that the alcoholics hardly come to take any treatment unless they developed other complications like liver cirrhosis, heart and brain problems.
“Alcohol leads to maximum health complications comparing to other drugs, but still it is not taken seriously and alcoholics come for treatment only when they becomes aggressive, day drinker or develop complications in liver, heart and brain,” say Dr Bhola who got rehabilitated several drug addicts in the past few years including women.
Dr Nirdosh Goyal, former in-charge of psychiatric department at the civil hospital and an expert in alcohol treatment, says treatment is there and patients with decades-old excessive drinking habit get cured in a couple of months, provided they have strong will power.
He adds that in Punjab, alcohol is not a social stigma like drugs and people do not consider it an addiction at all. “There are no dedicated centres for the treatment of alcoholism because it can be treated in all the civil hospitals of state by admitting them there or providing medicines,” he says, adding that there is a strong need of awareness against its ill effect and ban on the low quality liquor.
The survey adds that 16 crore people across India between the age group of 10-75 years consume alcohol and the number of men is 17 times higher than women. As many as 5.7 crore are alcoholic and 3.2 crore need urgent treatment.
Also the prevalence of cannabis-use disorders is considerably higher (more than thrice) than the national average in Sikkim and Punjab, the survey says.
As per the records of Punjab excise department, liquor worth over Rs 45,000 crore had been consumed by Punjabis from 2006-7 to 2018-19 (12 years), including around Rs 10,000 crore in the past two years.
Details procured from the Punjab excise department has revealed that since 2006-07, liquor consumption has almost become double in the state. Besides, from 2006-07 to 2015-16, Punjab government earned 35,558 crore from the sale of liquor vends. Also around Rs 10,000 crore-worth vends were sold in 2017-18 and 2018-19.
The Indian Express could not contact Director of Health, Punjab, Dr Jaspal Kaur, did not pick her phone despite repeated calls and messages.
Distillation of illicit liquor is also a very common practice in the rural areas of the state, particularly the places close to rivers. Huge quantity of such liquor is destroyed by the officials of the excise department every year.