Chennai: Alcohol consumption in India has almost doubled in the last decade. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports recorded an increase in per capita consumption of pure alcohol from 1.82 litres in 2000, to 2.46 litres in 2010. The WHO predicts the consumption to swell up to 4.9 litres by 2050 in India. Alcohol consumption among women is also on a sharp rise.
In Tamil Nadu, the Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (TASMAC) revenue continues to be one of the major sources of income for the state government. A PTI report recorded a 19.91% increase in liquor sales in 2012-13, earning revenue of about Rs 21,680.67 crore.
“More and more people are drinking these days. The city stress is getting to them and TASMAC shops are around every corner of the city. When I started going to Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) meetings 10 years ago, we were only a small group of five, now we are about 25 regular attendees”, said an AA coordinator.
The number of AA groups in Tamil Nadu has also increased considerably. There are about 200 AA group meetings across the State and about 100 AA groups in Chennai attended by men who believe they have a problem; Chennai has no Women- only AA meetings.
“Whereas women form 30% of AA abroad, in India it’s only 1%”, according to a Times of India report.
In December 2014, ACS Medical College Chennai conducted a study about the “Drinking Habits, Health, Social and Behavioural Aspects of Alcohol Users in A Semi Urban Population in Chennai” recording a “change in alcohol consumption trends, such as early age-of-onset of drinking, increasing usage among women, change in drinking patterns and increasing alcohol dependence problems.”
To change the taboo attached with women alcoholics, a group of 65 women, all recovering alcoholics, came to Chennai to spread awareness and share their struggle with alcoholism. They targeted colleges understanding the drinking culture among students. This was in January 2013, and still, there is no proper help available for women alcoholics in the city.
“There are three things about women alcoholics; first, their alcoholism is much well hidden than the alcoholism among males. Second, because they are able to hide it very comfortably, as a result, they much more heavily dependent when they decide to seek treatment. Third, is the stigma attached with a woman and alcoholism in our culture. When they seek treatment and people find out, they usually shun her out of the social circle, which pushes her further way from seeking treatment.
All these make it difficult for her to seek help. The stress attached with being judged increases their dependency on alcohol. They have increased depression and psychology issues in comparison with men dealing with alcoholism.” said Dr. Vijayalaxmi Vijyakumar, Head of the Department of Psychiatry at the Voluntary Health Services (VHS), Taramani, Chennai.
“Till the time it does not become a medical issue, they do not show up for treatment. But even when they first show up here, they come with their alcoholic husbands. It is only later that we find out that the woman also has an alcohol problem”, Dr. Vijyakumar added.
De-addiction centres usually advise their treated patients to attend AA meetings regularly after they have left the centre. Even after women are treated, the option of AA meetings and group therapy remains largely closed for them in the city.
Some of the highly rated de-addiction centres in the city are only for male patients. For example, Serene Life Hospital, which comes highly recommended by reformed alcoholics, treats only male patients and Boaz Memorial Hospital, which specialises in psychiatric rehabilitation, has zero female patients.
“The number of alcoholics is increasing. Even though the service at VHS is mainly for lower and middle income families, we do have women from relatively higher classes who are desperate for help. It has mainly been housewives, fishermen’s wives and women with lower class who come here for treatment. But as of recently, we have seen a lot of young kids, students have also started heavily drinking”, said Dr. Vijyakumar.
“If you really look at how it started, you will find out that it was the husband who got their wives started. They give them a drink when they have a drink and there it starts.
In fact, we had a case where the husband was an alcoholic and since he wanted company, he started making his wife drink with him. She had no clue what she was doing until her husband suddenly passed away. She went into a withdrawal phase because she didn’t know how to cope. She had never bought alcohol for herself, it was always the husband. She did not know how to buy it or how much was the cost. Then she developed a medical issue and came here. That is when we found out that alcohol was the problem”, added Dr. Vijyakumar.
At VHS, there are no Non-govenmental Organizations (NGOs) referring patients to the hospital and no advertisement screaming to help women alcoholics. They have about four to five women every year wanting to take the path of recovery. The success stories of the treatment are only communicated by the word of mouth. VHS had their last patient two months ago and currently has seven male patients in their de-addiction centre.
The women who don’t know about the treatment continue to suffer in silence, said Dr. Vijyakumar.