The problem with vices is that they all start with experimenting which is egged on by curiosity or peer pressure. What starts of as a casual experiment goes on to becoming a regular formality and then before you know it you can’t stay away from it. The vortex sucks you in.
So how widespread is social drinking? One can gauge from the fact that the age at which Gen-X is giving it the first shot is dropping rapidly. And this includes both sexes. The first drink is very often at school and every occasion whether it is the finishing of class X Board exams, a birthday or the last day of school before they close for vacations, they all are reasons to either head for a pub or meet at a private party. The biggest challenge a teen faces is peer pressure. This is a trend across genders. Which means girls are likely to face the same peer pressure to ‘give it a try’ as the boys. After all how bad can a drink be?
Pretty bad. A large segment of alcoholics report that they first tried a drink at an early age and almost always felt it was absolutely fine to try it again. This casual drinking turned to a habit and then graduated to an addiction.
This is not a problem restricted to urban areas but is equally widespread across semi-urban and rural areas. The difference is only in the place where it is sold. The cities have their pubs and resto-bars while the rural areas have their booze shacks. Traditional alcohol guzzling states like Punjab have made way for states like Kerala where the problem of alcoholism is now touching epidemic levels.
The growth of alcohol drinking in cities can be directly connected to the growth of several focused industries that are well paying and giving enough disposable income to a young generation eager to go out and splurge. The mushrooming of trendy Bars and Pubs, each competing aggressively to acquire and retain a clientele that is both young and willing to spend.
All kinds of occasions are triggers for a celebration. Be it a birthday, a promotion, a target being achieved, a transfer, a new job, a festival or a stream of Father’s Day, Mother’s day, Valentine’s day, you name it and there’s an occasion to celebrate.
Until recently going to someone’s house for dinner was just that. Today, it’s trendy to take along a bottle of wine. While a bottle of wine is a recent entry to the trend, going out to the pub has already topped the ‘must do’ list over the weekend.
So how do you arrest the trend?
At the teen level. There is a thin line between social restriction and social acceptance. The parents have a dilemma on where to draw a line especially since the teen is very likely to rebel and fight for freedom from parental control. Parents tend to view the situation from a perspective that grew out of their own experience, whereas, the generation today develops their perspective based on peer acceptance. The teen years are volatile and parental handling of the situation must be with care.
Social media can be a powerful tool
Education and awareness of this problem must come from within the student community as the current generation is very active on social media and understands and debates every issue. A large section amongst the student community is actually very aware and vocal about the risks but there is also another section that uses the very medium to advertise the ‘occasion’, which leads to social drinking.
All stakeholders i.e. the students, the parents and the school have to communicate freely and debate this on priority, otherwise we could well lose the opportunity to harness the talent of a dynamic generation that has tremendous potential to take India to the next level.