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Alcoholism and Men in the Caribbean

Alcoholism and Men  in the Caribbean

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We’ve just gone past Christmas Day and Old Year’s Night, and unfortunately, for many it was the perfect opportunity to become drunk and disorderly.

Carnival and Christmas are the only two times a year when people, particularly men are allowed to be stupidly drunk without judgement. We all know of at least one man who has died, is dying or almost died due to alcoholism. No one ever thinks of drinking as an addiction because unlike cocaine, it is socially acceptable to drink or even be drunk in public. Alcoholism is so pervasive in Caribbean culture that it’s hardly seen as a problem.

Did you know that heart disease is one of the top three causes of death in the Caribbean? Did you know that alcoholism is a huge contributor to heart disease? Rum is literally killing our men and yet it goes largely unnoticed. Even among the youth, alcoholism is acceptable and even encouraged. It is always a badge of honour to show how much you can drink before you get drunk, or how well you can manoeuvre drunk before falling over.

There’s nothing wrong with social drinking or even having a drink by one’s self. The problem occurs when alcohol is used to soothe very real emotional problems or stress. Many people, especially men self-medicate with alcohol. Our society does not cultivate an environment where men feel safe being vulnerable, as vulnerability is perceived as weakness. Even male friendships are often shallow and offer very little emotional support to the participants as that might seem feminine or “gay”. Men are given almost no emotional support thus, they turn to alcohol. ‘Rum might not solve your problems, but it won’t nag you about them either’ is often the rhetoric used.

The very first thing a man always suggests after having a hard time is to get a drink; because the drink will make him forget, if only for a little while. West Indian men have very little access to professional mental help and we all suffer the consequences of their self-medication. Alcoholism does not only contribute to heart disease, it aids domestic violence and joblessness. Alcohol addiction is real and just as dangerous as any drug; if not worse because we don’t treat it like a drug.

It is time for us to pay attention to the men who are drunk every weekend or every function, these men who only seem to light up when there is alcohol around. We also need to address this cultural norm of exposing children to alcohol. Stop trying to be cool parents, you’re not doing your children any favours. Alcoholism is a problem just like most addictions, and we need to start treating them as such.

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