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Nigeria needs urgent intervention on alcohol

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By Abraham Adekunle

Per capita alcohol consumption in Nigeria at least 25% more than global average.

Residents of Nigeria are not alien to the culture of alcohol consumption. Every weekend, bars, clubs and “beer parlors” are filled with (usually) men drinking various kinds of booze amidst laughter and gist. These drinks come in various forms and prices. The rich are familiar with foreign expensive wines and liquor. The average Nigerian is also familiar with the more affordable palm wine and locally distilled beverages. Drinking is a popular pastime in the country, among both the young and the old.

According to statistics, about 53 percent of Nigerians aged 15 years and above consume alcohol. This shows that less than half of the country’s population (about 47 percent) abstain from such venture. This latter category includes people who have never had any alcoholic drink and those who used to drink but stopped for religious, health or cultural reasons. Also, statistics reveal that more females in the country (about 62 percent) belong to the category of abstainers, while only 33 percent of males do not drink. This distribution is similar to what obtains in most low-income countries but different from the situation in western countries where higher proportions of adults are alcohol drinkers.

Nigerian drinkers drink more alcohol than African and global average.

In the Nigerian context of this, the people’s way or pattern of drinking is a source of public health concern. The typical quantity and frequency of alcohol consumed by a drinker in Nigeria is higher than normal. Total alcohol per capita consumption in the general population globally is about 6.4 liters of pure alcohol (ethanol) and about 6.2 liters in the African region. The figure is more than double in Nigeria at 13.4 liters. Also, calculated total alcohol per capita for drinkers only is 15 liters globally and 18.4 liters for Africa. This is a contrast to Nigeria’s 25.5 liters.

Unarguably, a typical alcohol drinker in Nigeria consumes more alcohol than other African drinkers as well as others in the world. As Nigeria clearly leads the way in per capita consumption, the extent of heavy episodic or “binge” drinking is more distressing. The pattern of consumption involves taking 60 grams or more of pure alcohol (up to six drinks) on at least one occasion in the past month. A drink is that quantity of beverage (a glass of beer or wine, or a shot of liquor) that contains about 10grams of ethanol. Fifty-five percent of drinkers in Nigeria, especially male and young drinkers, engage in binge drinking.

Harmful consumption is linked to many health problems.

This pattern of drinking to intoxication is harmful consumption. It is strongly associated with intentional/unintentional injuries and interpersonal violence. Harmful consumption is linked to many other health and social problems. It is a leading cause of disease, death and disability globally. It is associated with more than 200 disorders, including infectious diseases (tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS), and non-communicable conditions (liver cirrhosis, different types of cancer, alcohol addiction, gender-based violence, etc.). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), alcohol is responsible for three million deaths each year globally.

It also accounts for more than five percent of global burden of disease as measured by Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALY). This health metric combines healthy years of life lost due to mortality and disability. Ethanol is the psychoactive ingredient in beer, wine, whiskey and a host of other commercial drinks. It is not only intoxicating but also addictive. These problems can be prevented through evidence-based strategies developed by the WHO. The organization highly recommends the SAFER initiative to lawmakers in a whole-of-society response to harmful use of alcohol.

Urgent need for intervention via a national alcohol policy.

Unlike countries in the western world and in a growing number of low and middle-income countries, Nigeria does not have a national alcohol policy that aims to control the production, distribution and consumption of alcohol. One reason for this is that the product occupies a “respectable” position in traditional society as a cultural item that is consumed as part of celebrations of various kinds. As well, the alcohol industry, in a bid to protect its commercial interests, interferes with the efforts of health experts to develop and implement alcohol control policies to protect public health and promote social welfare/awareness.

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