By Aminta Kilawan-Narine, Esq
Akela hoon main, Rum is meh lover and I don care, so we drinking today and we drinking forever, Akela hoon main, But I don care what people say, Ah drinking today and we drinking forever, ah Tequila or Beer … Rum kill meh muda, Rum kill meh fada, Rum kill meh whole family, Rum kill meh brudda, Rum kill meh sista, Now it want to come and kill me!
April is Alcohol Awareness Month. The lyrics above are an example of how alcohol is deified in some of our beloved music – the same music we unhesitatingly wine to at special occasions, put on blast in our car stereos, and feel nostalgic about because its reminiscent of yesteryear. The tune of a classic Mohammed Rafi song about loneliness somehow became a Ravi B song about drinking rum. Drinking rum is a popular theme in chutney soca songs; one which is often used conveniently to excuse away infidelity, intimate partner violence and even suicide. While drinking alcohol is certainly something that myriad cultures around the world are guilty of abusing, our community knows from within that it is often associated with Caribbean identity.
A few years ago, my father-in-law wrote an opinion piece for this newspaper about the promotion of rum culture through the music we listen to as a people. The points conveyed deserve to be revisited often. Alcohol is promoted in American culture as well. In Hollywood, the affluent are often depicted sipping on a cocktail. Alcohol doesn’t just come up on the silver screen. An analysis conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that out of 793 popular songs for youth on Top Billboard chart, 25% called out an alcohol brand name. The conclusion? The average American teenager is exposed to 2.5 hours of music that contains references to alcohol. Idolized rappers like Jay-Z, P. Diddy and Snoop Dogg introduced their own brands of alcohol through their songs, profiting off of the industry and popularizing the trend of alcohol featured in music.
While alcohol in mass media tends to present itself in a glamorized way, it’s not all that posh when it plays out in our own normal, everyday lives. I have a Google alert set for any mainstream news articles pertaining to Guyanese in New York City. Sadly, almost all the alerts I ever receive relate to shootings, stabbings, murders and accidental deaths. Almost all of them occurred either outside of a bar or lounge or on the way home from a bar or lounge. Almost every time, toxicology reports demonstrate that the deceased or injured, the victim and/or the perpetrator were intoxicated.
Almost every year someone is killed or seriously injured at J’Ouvert, the predawn festival that occurs in the hours leading up to the annual West Indian Day Parade in Brooklyn, NY. No one has ever been killed at the Phagwah Parade over the course of its thirty years. What’s the difference? I believe we can blame it on the alcohol.
A few months ago, a family member of mine was reflecting on a nostalgic commercial that aired in Guyana in the 1970s. The commercial featured a man who said: “When was the last time you gave your wife a good punch?” It was actually supposed to be an advertisement for rum punch. The rum punch commercial reeked of irony. Domestic violence continues to be socially acceptable and it’s further exacerbated by the continuing culture of rum-drinking.
In the homeland of Guyana, the few statistics we have demonstrate that there is a problem. Research by the World Health Organization has found that approximately 15.2 per cent of male drinkers (which amounts to 10% of the population aged 15 and older) engaged in “heavy, episodic drinking” – consuming at least 60 grams of pure alcohol at least once per month. Additionally, 8.6% of males and 5.9% of all Guyanese aged 15 and older are classified as having alcohol use disorder, a pattern of alcohol use which causes mental or physical damage to health, with 3.9% and 1.9% respectively classified as alcoholics. Alcoholism can arguably be linked to Guyana’s high rate of suicide. Perhaps the prevalence of alcohol is indicative of a larger problem: mental health is often ignored by our people as something undeserving of adequate attention.
Now, I’d say it’s entirely fine to have a drink or two every now and again. Heck, some studies have even shown that a glass of red wine a day may promote a healthy heart. Of course, moderation should be underscored. People drink for many reasons and not all of them are negative. Among the healthy reasons to drink are wanting to celebrate, to relax, or to socialize with friends or family. People sometimes drink to loosen up and reduce their inhibitions, especially if they’re about to do something out of their comfort zone. Some people have a cold beer just because they think it quenches thirst better than any other beverage, especially on a hot summer’s day.
Others however, end up addicted to alcohol. Most alcoholics don’t even realize they have a problem. Among unhealthy signs of alcohol use are drinking on a daily or near daily basis, dependence on alcohol to help a day pass by or to get through certain situations, not physically feeling well without drinking a little each day and drinking secretively.
This month, I’m calling on all those who find themselves drinking for the wrong reasons, to do a self-evaluation and to commit to drinking less. This will reap many rewards in the long term, including the following:
You’ll get better sleep. Many people drink because they think it’ll help them get to sleep. It’s true; alcohol could help you doze off, but it affects the quality of your sleep.
Your outlook on life will become more positive, you’ll have increased energy, and your focus will improve. The day after drinking heavily results in feeling pretty low. That’s not just because of a hangover. Alcohol actually interferes with neurotransmitters in our brains. Drinking less has been proven to make people feel happier longer. Alcohol inhibits the body’s immune system from effectively fighting off viruses. It also impacts the ability to concentrate.
Your skin will look better and your body will be healthier. Alcohol dehydrates your skin and is often chock full of calories – especially mixed cocktails. Couple this with the fact that alcohol gets in the way deep sleep, it can result in a person looking tired, and packing on pounds, especially in the stomach area. Reducing alcohol intake can bring the skin back to a glowing state and can shred fat along the waistline. Alcohol also irritates the stomach by making it produce more acid than its meant to. This can cause diarrhea and indigestion. Cutting down on the drinks also helps to reduce the possibility of cancer, liver disease and heart disease.
Better relationships with loved ones. Even if we choose to drink alone, alcohol seeps into our personal lives impacting our relationships with our spouses, our children, and our friends. 10% of American children live with a parent who abuses alcohol. Cutting down on alcohol will reduce moodiness, increase positivity, and lift our spirits (no pun intended), ultimately improving relationships that could be suffering because of alcohol.
The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.