Asians are less likely to take up services or seek help
Alcohol use and alcoholism is on the rise in South Asian populations. Alcohol related harm in Asians is costing the NHS and Social Services too much. For every 100 white men dying from alcohol related causes there are 160 Asian men dying. These are some of the facts published in a report in the British Medical Journal.
Dr Gurpreet Pannu, author of the study and consultant psychiatrist, says that there are disproportionately high numbers of Indian men being admitted with alcohol related problems.
There has always been alcohol use in Asian populations but the problem was not recognised. This study highlights the rise in alcohol use in Asian population. The figures are out there now and the Government has to act on these figures. Dr Pannu adds that we know that there is a high incidence of alcohol use but we don’t know what is underlying this rise.
Dr Pannu explains that alcohol use and celebration of drinks culture has become more accepted in Asian populations and now equals the rise in British white populations. Both first generation and second generation have high intake of alcohol. This could reflect a rise in alcohol levels in the British white population as a whole.
Majority of alcohol admissions are with mental health problem -this is only one aspect. Social harm is also common – domestic violence, self harm and road traffic accidents.
It is a myth that Indians drink less. Alcohol use in Indians now equal that of white populations. Drinks culture has become increasingly acceptable in Indian populations. However there is an equally large abstinence culture, with many stating religion as a reason for not drinking.
Drinking is not associated with ‘being social’ in Asian communities. High alcohol consumption and drunken behaviour is frowned upon. Asians have restraints on behaviour from their close knit, often conservative community. Overall South Asian populations show a low level of alcohol consumption. However, there is a rise in consumption in British Indian men.
Men born in India have lower rates of drinking than white men, however, the rate of admission with alcoholism is higher for Asian men in the UK. Hospital admissions for alcohol related conditions among Asians are rising. A Southall psychiatric hospital admitted more Asian patients for alcohol dependency than white patients. Almost double the number of Asians were admitted. Southall, which has a large South Asian population, have high levels of alcoholism in Asians – a trend seen around the country. Most of these patients are Sikh men.
It seems that Sikhs are particularly susceptibility to alcoholism. Sikh men tend to drink more spirits than beer. Spirits are stronger than other alcohols and cause more damage. Drinking culture is common in Sikh population in the UK, possible due to the acceptance of drinking in working men’s culture and military culture. Many Sikh families migrated here during the Second World War when they were recruited to fight in the army.
Further studies have found that Asian heavy drinking lasts 7.4 years causing pain and suffering in Asian families. Alcoholism can break apart a family as the man becomes more and more dependent on drinking. Asians consume 383 grams of alcohol on average.
The alcoholic is unable to work or bring home an income to support their families. Alcohol abuse is often associated with anti social behaviour and domestic violence. Children grow up without the support of a parent. The cost of alcoholism in social terms is high.
Dr Pannu says that Asians are less likely to take up services or seek help. The community wasn’t aware that there was an alcohol problem in Brit-Asian society. The BMJ study highlights the prevalence of alcohol use in Asians.
The next step is to promote knowledge of the problem. Now that the Asian population is aware of the problem they are doing something about it. For example, there is a campaign in Sikh Gurudwaras in Southall to raise awareness of the issue of binge drinking.
Indian men in the UK are more susceptible to the effects of alcohol use than their white counterpart. There are biological and cultural reasons for Asian vulnerability to the risk of alcohol. The immigrant experience contributes to the drinking habit. Immigrants experience isolation, cultural alienation, poverty and deprivation. This is a difficult experience for many to cope with and they resort to drinking to solve their problems.
Alcoholism tends to hit those who don’t have a supportive network and find it difficult to confide in people. Alcohol use and ethnicity surveys show a low level of uptake of supportive services among Asians. More effective outreach services need to be provided. These need to be culturally sensitive to Asians to encourage more people going through this experience alone to seek help.
A significant portion of the Asian population has become victims of alcohol. Our culture is not one that encourages drinking. It’s those who are going through troubled times alone who are most vulnerable. We need to reach out to these people and let then know that help is available.