It bears out what even our uninformed guess would have told us. Alcohol liver disease (ALD) remains the leading cause of death in the country.
According to the annual health bulletin 2018, 166 Bhutanese died of alcohol-related diseases last year. A small decrease in the number of deaths due to alcohol compared with that of the number in 2016 is no comfort.
About 13 Bhutanese died of ALD every month in 2017.
What is so worrying about our relationship with alcohol is that is it so deeply embedded in our culture. There is really no place or occasion where alcohol is not served. In some communities still if alcohol is not among the item of a feast, it is an insult. It could be a promotion of a civil servant or a marriage party; we could be welcoming or seeing a guest off; it could be an office or a family gathering or just a casual get-together of friends and relatives, but at the front and centre of any celebration is alcohol.
Some things cultural are difficult to put aside or to cast away altogether. In certain parts of the country, children are introduced to alcohol early on in life, even before they have come of age to go to school.
Alcohol is also the major contributor of road or traffic-related deaths in the country, to say nothing about the rising instances of mental and behavioural disorders due to it and the kinds and kinds of domestic and family problems that it gives birth to.
It may not be easy to keep alcohol away from us or us successfully away from alcohol but we can certainly bring down consumption level. We must.
Putting a stop to issuing new bar licence was a commendable response. But that’s not enough. The number of alcohol manufacturer is increasing and no one, particularly the bar owners, follow the regulations.
The government spends millions of ngultrums to treat alcohol-related diseases every year. What is more worrying is that alcohol is pulling a certainty of bleak future before the lives of the economically most productive group of Bhutanese – the youth.