Alcohol destroyed my brother’s life. Don’t let it destroy yours

By Tran Anh Tu   June 13, 2019 | 06:32 pm GMT+7

As long as drinking is a cultural necessity and worn as a badge of social honor, there will be a price to pay.

Tran Anh Tu

Tran Anh Tu

My brother found alcohol in the darkest moments of his life. His failures and conflicts, and the apathy of the people he met had robbed him of his sanity. The more he drank, the more he hurt everyone around him. He harmed himself, caused accidents, broke the law, and abused his family. Alcohol was poisoning not just his body, but his soul as well.

My friend asked me if it was my brother or the alcohol that was responsible for the things he did.

"Alcohol," I said without hesitation.

It ruined my brother’s life and the lives of everyone who loved him. Like a silent tumor, it slowly creeps its way into one’s mind and takes hold of it. Its addictive nature is comparable to that of narcotics, but unlike meth and heroin that frequently make the front pages, you won't get hooked on alcohol immediately. By the time one realizes their drinking has become more than just a pastime, the addiction has already taken hold. As one drinks, their social life fades away; they start to isolate themselves, alienate others, destroy the bonds with the people who want to help them, and turn to alcohol instead. It is a tragic, endless loop.

Alcohol addiction has become too commonplace nowadays. When people hear of a criminal case involving alcohol, they are inured to it. The news is so saturated with stories of drunk drivers causing accidents and stories of drunk parents and spouses destroying their families that we have become desensitized. Drinking and being drunk are ingrained so deeply in our society that they have become normalized.

A typical Vietnamese consumed 8.9 liters of pure alcohol a year as of 2017, or 24.5 times the 1990 figure. To put that in perspective, 5.9 liters per year would roughly equal one can of 330ml beer per day per adult.

Vietnam's alcohol consumption is 20 percent more than the world's average. And the figures are rising fast.

In the last few months alcohol consumption has come into the limelight following a string of fatal road accidents caused by drunk drivers. Debates over it have started in neighborhoods and on social media, culminating in a bill on the prevention of dangers of alcoholic drinks that made its way into the National Assembly’s agenda recently.

Many thought the bill would be passed swiftly with tougher regulations and more severe punishments now that people are more aware of the consequences of irresponsible alcohol consumption.

But that is not what happened.

The bill proved to be much more divisive than expected, polarizing delegates over even what seemed open-and-shut questions like whether to let people drive after consuming alcohol and whether an alcohol ban should be in place at certain times.

In the case of the first question, the two options considered were to ban people from driving if there is any amount of alcohol in their system and to ban if the alcohol level exceeds a certain threshold determined by the law.

Neither was passed.

As for a ban at certain times, the discussions centered on whether alcohol sales be banned from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m. Again, the answer was no.

Clearly, Vietnamese politicians have not reached agreement on the subject of alcohol. Despite regularly preaching how alcohol is detrimental to one’s health, many still swear by how alcohol sales contribute to the economy, while others believe drinking is part of our "national tradition."

Some even quote poetry to show it is a "sacred pursuit" and a "cultural heritage of human civilization."

But what about the people whose lives alcohol has ruined? What about my brother? What about our family?

Does the government do enough to ensure that people are fully aware of what alcohol is capable of? Is simply stopping drunk driving enough to prevent alcohol from claiming another life?

As long as drinking is normalized and accepted by society, there will be a price to pay. Alcohol kills from the inside. Before it ravages your body, it would have also destroyed the relationships and finances you had.

Until that day comes no one would see it coming, though they should.

Some say alcoholics are families’ "bad karma." But for mine, the antagonist of our stories has always been alcohol itself, and how its consumption is so easily accepted, even encouraged, in society.

If someone dabbles in drugs or gambling, there would immediately be extensive interventions to "set them on the correct path." The government deploys political campaigns to rally people against such "social evils." That would never happen with alcohol.

There are never warnings that alcohol is a stimulant that is more addictive than cannabis. The fact that it is associated with memory loss, blackouts, seizures and other neurological effects is largely overlooked, if not ignored.

On the other hand, it is touted by scholars, artists and, of course, billion-dollar breweries, as the nectar of the gods, a cultural necessity, a badge of masculine honor and an elite status symbol. It does not matter how much alcohol sales and production are legally restricted since as long as people think of it as a "heritage" of modern culture and life, no law would be enough to stop its malignant spread throughout our society.

Look at how heavily other countries tax their alcoholic products. Look at how heavily they punish drunk driving. Will Vietnam ever learn? Or will we leave things as they are and keep watching the news for more drunk driving stories and more cases of alcohol overdose?

The answer is up to us.

*Tran Anh Tu is a journalist. The opinions expressed are his own.

 
 
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