The abuse of alcohol has devastating effects that are more widespread than those of abuse of hard drugs because binge drinking is more common than the consumption of drugs. Drinking on occasion with friends can be an enjoyable way to celebrate events and socialise, however, for too many people, this activity becomes excessive and reckless. 

In reply to a parliamentary question, Health Minister Chris Fearne confirmed that last year more than 1,800 intoxicated persons were admitted to hospital for treatment. This was the highest figure for the last decade. The impact of these cases on society is indeed worrying.

The minister was right when he said that it does not matter whether those who sought help were Maltese people or foreigners, students or tourists. Our public health system is the first entity to carry the financial burden of the abuse of alcohol. What is more important is the collateral damage that results from alcohol abuse.

An intoxicated person can often decide to drive back to his home or hotel thereby putting at risk the lives of road users. With the number of road deaths increasing it is critically important to ask whether regulations aimed at curbing drink driving are being applied as meticulously as necessary. 

Many rightly argue that the practice of breathalysing drivers only when an accident happens, or when a driver appears not to be in control of his or her vehicle, is inadequate. Drink driving regulations should be revised so that the fear of being booked for driving under the influence of alcohol becomes a real deterrent.

Alcohol abuse has even more severe social effects on the family. Partners of alcoholics are often subjected to alcohol-related abuse such as verbal, emotional and physical abuse. Couples may exhibit mutually violent behaviours towards each other during alcohol use. Children of alcohol abusers often have deep-seated psychological and emotional problems due to many factors when growing up with an addicted parent. 

There is no silver bullet to resolve this problem. Prohibition of alcohol sales should only be considered to prevent minors from buying alcohol in places of entertainment. There may also be special occasions where strict regulations aimed at preventing uncontrolled consumption of alcohol on a large scale should be enforced. For instances, anyone who goes to a football match in a state of inebriation should not be allowed in the stadium. 

Other measures should be considered including providing mobile clinics to treat emergency cases in areas where alcohol abuse is more likely to happen. Treatment should be followed by prosecution of anyone who threatens public peace and order when in a state of inebriation. Such a measure is even more important when an accident is caused as a result of a person’s abuse of alcohol. 

Education and enforcement of sensible regulations remain the best weapons to improve civic behaviour. A campaign to drive home the legal and health risks that people take when they deliberately choose to lose control of themselves by drinking excessively may be more effective than prohibiting the use of alcohol in certain social activities. 

Schools should be encouraged to include teaching on the social impact of alcohol abuse from an early age. They should also offer support for children who are known to be exposed to an environment of alcohol abuse.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial


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