Happiness comes from within | Sunday Observer

Happiness comes from within

5 December, 2021

They all have different problems, but have opted for one deceptive solution!

“I feel I am so smart and manly when I am holding a glass of whisky! It is an absolute necessity for a “macho-guy,” recommends a 19- year-old architecture student based in Colombo 7. “Whenever I have an exam presentation or viva I take a “shot” to feel relaxed and fit so that I can face the audience without being nervous,” a 23-year-old Third- year local university student said.

A 35-year-old Marketing Executive based in Kandy says he will continue to “booze” with his friends despite its health hazards because it helps him forget his unending hopes and fears for the future. As a 43- year- old home - based IT Expert puts it, a glass (or multiple) of beer or wine at the end of the day helps him ease work related stress. A medical doctor in his mid 40’s based in Matara said that he ends up drunk almost every weekend simply because of his friends! “I need friends, not liquor, but I simply cannot say “No” to them.”

The above five voices represent the entire Sample of fifty participants in a study conducted by the writer to examine the impact of alcohol addiction among males whose ages ranged between 18 to 45.

More than 78 percent of the participants of the study hold the view that the momentary pleasures of alcohol is mostly overshadowed by its negative after effects. “When we go to sleep drunk, we wake up with a disturbed mind the next day. Then we are being compelled to cancel all our work and appointments scheduled for the day.” They admit that the ‘pseudo happiness’ has caused them much harm than benefit. The harm may vary from ill health to inability to concentrate on important or crucial matters related to their lives.

WHO statistics

According to World Health Organization’s (WHO) latest statistics, alcohol consumption contributes to 3 million deaths each year globally as well as to the disabilities and poor health of millions of people. Overall, harmful use of alcohol is responsible for 5.1percent of the global burden of disease.

As revealed by WHO, harmful use of alcohol is accountable for 7.1percent and 2.2 percent of global diseases for males and females respectively. “Alcohol is the leading risk factor for premature mortality and disability among those aged 15 to 49 years, accounting for 10 percent of all deaths in this age group. Disadvantaged and especially vulnerable populations have higher rates of alcohol-related death and hospitalisation.” states WHO.

Is it psychological?

Why do the youth find it almost impossible to get rid of alcoholism, be it the so-called social drinking or alcohol abuse? “Is alcohol addiction psychological?” The Sunday Observer asked Consultant Psychiatrist and Senior Lecturer at Kotalawala Defence University Dr.Neil Fernando who responded in the affirmative.

“There can be varying factors for alcohol addiction. Psychological factors no doubt play a major role,”

“Drinking addiction is a behaviour. Behaviour is one of the 3 components of the Mind. The other 2 components are thoughts (cognition) and feelings (emotions). The three components are interrelated and interdependent.”

As Dr.Fernando highlighted drinking is related to and dependent on a person’s thinking and feelings.

There are six features of alcohol addiction, he elaborated.

1. Intense craving or desire for drinking: A person addicted to alcohol will get this craving or desire when they see someone drinking or even when they smell of alcohol.

2. Loss of control: The loss of control is about the amount of alcohol consumed and the frequency of alcohol consumption

3. Developing tolerance: That is, you need to consume more alcohol to get the same intoxication with time

4. Developing withdrawal symp toms: These are unpleasant symptoms that occur when the blood alcohol level goes down. A person develops withdrawal symptoms when he stops the consumption of alcohol or when he reduces the alcohol consumption.

5. Alcohol is given the first preference in your life: Drinking becomes your only pleasurable activity in your life. All other activities including your spouse, children, reputation, and status becomes secondary

6. Drinking alcohol despite knowing the harm it is causing:

Out of the six features you need only three to be present in the past 12 months to name a person as addicted to alcohol.

Psychological disorder

Dr. Fernando said that alcohol addiction is considered a psychological disorder in the classification of mental disorders. In the International Classification of Disease 10th version (ICD 10) which is the WHO classification and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association 5th version (DSM5), alcohol addiction is classified as a disease.

Social drinking, why can not youth get rid of it?

Many youth tend to think that social drinking is something they cannot avoid. Why? As Dr.Fernando opined the main reason is the existence of multiple factors that promote drinking behaviour among the youth. He categorised those under six main headings; Alcoholisation of the Sri Lankan community, availability and affordability, privilege for alcohol users, initiation of alcohol at early age, media publicity and peer pressure.

“Our family events such as birthday celebrations, weddings, funerals, and even rituals to mark attaining age of a girl child are increasingly used to promote alcohol. In our national festivals such as the Sinhala and Hindu New Year, the use of alcohol has become the norm and not the exception. Even the religious events are not spared. Use of alcohol is the order of the day,” he said.

Availability and affordability is the next factor. Since the production, distribution, and sale of alcohol have increased, this invariably leads to an increase in the consumption of alcohol.

As highlighted by Dr. Fernando there are many privileges ( or benefits) that are available for alcohol consumers. The society has an “increased tolerance” for unruly behaviour of persons under liquor.

“Even the spouse who gets beaten up by her husband tends to excuse such behaviour saying that ‘he is drunk.’

This, according to Dr. Fernando sends the wrong message in society.

Initiation of alcohol at an early age

“It has been clearly shown the earlier the initiation of drinking behaviour, the more the chance of ending up as a drinking addiction. Over the years it is very clear that the age of initiation of alcohol drinking is dropping very rapidly,” he noted.

Media Publicity too has played a wide role, Dr.Fernando said. “Even though alcohol advertising is banned in Sri Lanka, the alcohol industry is using various methods to promote alcohol in an indirect manner in films and teledramas,” he added.

Commenting on the link between peer pressure and alcohol addiction, Dr. Fernando highlighted that the influence exerted by the friends may initiate experimenting with alcohol. The commonly held beliefs and attitudes that drinking symbolises maturity and manliness promote alcohol consumption, he said.

Most of the youth who are into alcohol are of the view that “the bottle” helps them ease stress. Dr Fernando says even though it is true that alcohol consumption reduces stress, it is a mal-adaptive coping strategy. “There are many adaptive coping strategies to deal with stress in a more productive way,” he said.

He highlighted the importance of seeking treatment for alcohol addiction as it is clearly a psychological disorder. “There are strategies known as brief interventions to overcome the addiction. The treatment must be with medical supervision. This will prevent a life threatening alcohol withdrawal state. Alcohol addiction will ruin your physical health, psychological health, and social health,” he warned.

Sociological perspective

Senior Professor in Sociology, University of Colombo Subhangi Herath says that sociologically, consumption of alcoholic beverages has not been seen as a social problem.

“It is the addiction or habitual drinking that is seen as problematic. Karl Marx saw poor people (labourers) as having the right to use alcohol if it is accepted as a method of socializing for the rich. If alcohol fulfills social and environmental functions such as socialising or preventing the cold weather, it also was seen as a right of poor workers. The problem sociologists see is the addiction and harmful social behaviours related to alcohol consumption, if it is addiction or not. Being dysfunctional at the workplace, resulting in absenteeism, violence, wife battering, incest, child sexual exploitation and violence against women and children are some practices that are attempted to get linked to and therefore excused on the basis of “being under the influence of alcohol. Drinking and driving has also become a menace in this society,” she added.

Addiction is addiction

According to Prof. Herath addiction can never be considered as social drinking. “Addicts also participate in social events often negatively influencing younger generations. It is a learned behavior. It is covered under terms such as “sociability,” “personality,” or “modern.”

Prof. Herath noted that unless there is a concerted effort from within the individual, based on values stemming from backgrounds such as family, education, social status or profession, it is quite easy for a youth to get addicted, especially, if the consumption behavior is frequent.

Changing social norms

As Prof. Herath said the social norms concerning alcohol have drastically changed. “At village functions (weddings ) alcohol would be hidden in a room where men would go in and come out as if they never consumed it. This happens mainly in Buddhist settings. But today, alcohol has come to the open, having it is a must for ceremonies including children’s birthday parties, and even in religious ceremonies such as Pirith ceremonies and alms-givings. Some even consider offering alcohol in small quantities to monks, a meritorious deed disguised under the explanation that ‘ giving what they would like to eat and drink’ generates more merit than giving what the donor wants!” she said.

Social transition is highly visible – from being a ‘culturally controlled’ culture to ‘culturally permissive’ culture. Alcoholism and sexuality are cited by her as classic examples.

“However, cultural control still can be seen at a highly irrational level. Many contradictions prevail in the society, confusing youth. I wonder if Sri Lankan society is running towards an “anomic” condition, or “normlessness.” Control is on false conceptions on ethnic purity or religious superiority. But those who promote them do not see the destruction caused by excessive prevalence of alcoholism,” Professor Herath raised concern.

Elaborating further on youth addiction to alcohol Prof. Herath said that peer pressure is visible from the school level. Youth are exposed to new forms of opportunities - after school/ tuition classes based get-togethers, facebook parties which promote alcohol use.

Adults’ irresponsible behaviour

“It is very common to see incidents involving alcohol abuse of responsible elements in the society including, law makers, politicians and the Police. But no serious attention is paid by the authorities or the public to these incidents. They are often laughed at, made fun of or publicly ridiculed, but no legal or official sanction against them. This creates a highly negative impact on young people, creating dangerously negative social norms,” the eminent professor cautioned.

Even though the harm caused by drug abuse has always been under much discussion, the dangers of youth alcohol addiction are mostly being overlooked. Serious steps have to be taken in order to save youth from this menace.

As highlighted by Prof. Herath, smoking was a serious issue at a particular time period in Sri Lanka. With concerted efforts by many stakeholders, mainly some Non-Governmental organisations which took a leading role involving schools and youth, it was possible to send the right message across the youth and thus make a lasting impact in getting smoking and smokers unacceptable.

“No such effort can be seen regarding alcoholism. Prohibition of smoking in public was a major step. A serious ban on drinking and driving, a ban on alcohol related behavior in public with serious legal sanctions would be useful. But it is important that social class shouldn’t be a measure for such legal action,” she said.

Raising awareness

According to Prof. Herath more importantly awareness raising needs to be promoted.

“I don’t think that Dhamma sermons alone would do the task. As a country we have been preaching the bad effects of alcoholism for years, but there is a segment in society whom we find difficult to get dragged to religion discussions,” she said.

“Youth should also be involved in more scientific discussions. The boundary between social and problem drinking, ethical responsibilities involving drinking and driving, examples from the developed world which don’t see alcohol on the religious basis, but at the level of social responsibility can be taken. The youth today needs to be critical and rational about their own behavior instead of being mere followers of some “showing- off leaders.”

Lack of self-control

“Lack of self-control to decide about their own lives and future, is a serious problem among youth who could fall prey to many transgressors, who can be easily led to highly uncritical behaviours whether it is emerging at the ethnic, religious, family, social or cultural levels. This is the issue we need to address,” she added.

As emphasized by Dr.Herath, youth should understand the value of their life.

“You are the power of your life. You are the owner of your future. Don’t let anyone else run your life. Take control of your life. Read and learn about people who became successful in their lives and learn how. Set targets for your life. You may fail in one but there is always another which takes you towards a goal which will make you accomplished,” she said.

Don’t judge people

According to world-renowned meditation Guru and Chief Abbot of Bodhinyana Monastery, Perth, Australia Ajahn Brahmavamso, it is not good to judge people. “Just as being sick is normal, we should not judge people,”

Ven. Brahmavamso thera said that if a person is into any kind of addiction, it is best to make them realise that there is a problem with their behaviour.

“When a person is drunk or misbehaving, just video and show it to them when they are in their proper senses!”

Ven. Brahmavamso thera said that “very often this will be a big eye opener for them because they don’t know what they look like or how they behave when they are drunk.”

Next it is important to find a way to get rid of one’s addiction.

As the renowned meditation Guru emphasized, most addicts say that they can give up drinking or smoking if they want to.

“I can give up anytime. It is that I just don’t want to give it up.” Once a smoker said, “Either way I die, You smoke you die, you give up smoking, even then you will die,”

But as Ajahn Brahmavamso (Ajahn Brahm) emphasized that is not the point. “What matters is how you die and how soon you die.”

Ven. Brahmavamso thera advised all addicts to give up the habit for a short while.

“Firstly, you have to give up a habit for a short period of time to see whether you are addicted to it, to see whether you cannot do without it. Give it up for a while, just temporarily, not totally.”

The point Ajahn Brahm raised was sometimes it is too scary if you say “Give it up totally”

“The good thing is you can just give it up for a week and see” It is a little bit of trick psychology because if you give it up for a week , what happens is you know that you can go back again, it is not so scary, So you don’t have that fear that if you make a decision you don’t have to live with it the rest of ur life”

Ajahn Brahm said that when one usually does give up an addiction he/she feels free, empowered and good about oneself. And that empowerment and that lift of self esteem, degree of happiness and freedom often counteract you taking up that addiction again.”

“When I was a young man, I was a Buddhist and my teacher kept on telling me that I should not consume alcohol, but I liked my beer. Then my teacher insisted that I should stop taking alcohol if I am a Buddhist because it is a violation of precepts.”

As soon as I tried it, giving up beer, I felt this great sense of power inside me, “It was like I had the choice and I was exercising the choice” I could take it or leave it, I was proving myself that I could leave it,” Ajahn Brahm said.

As a young Buddhist he found out that it was more fun when he was sober and when he was sober he had much more fun! He said that it is only when we are free of any addiction that we will be able to understand the extent to which the addiction has been controlling us.

Ven. Brahmavamso noted that once you stop it [addiction] for a while, there is a real danger of going back to that addiction.

“It is easy to get off an addiction, but it is hard to keep off it for a long period of time. It is because a lot of addictions are habits; a habit is something you are not really aware of.”

Ven. Brahmavamso thera said that this is where Mindfulness comes to the rescue.

“It is something we learn in meditation, which is called programming your mindfulness.

When you are calm and happy, when you have got mindfulness and energy, make a resolution that you will not pick up that “first cigarette or glass of alcohol” again. Say that to yourself in a slow voice and pay as full attention as possible and forget it. And it is incredible how it works. It is like auto conditioning.”

“I call it “programming your awareness,” he said.

Hence what Ven. Ajahn Brahm thera highlighted was that first try and to get rid of any addiction for a brief period. Once you start experiencing the bliss of being free from addiction, it is easy for you to make a resolution and get rid of the bad habit forever!