Despite being told that the younger generation are drinking less and with events such as Go Sober for October being pushed in the media, a recent World Health Organisation study has found alcohol is still responsible for 5% of deaths worldwide. This figure rises to 13.2% when looking at people in their 20’s .
To highlight that the current global policies towards alcohol are behind the times, a WHO alcohol control excerpt by Dr Vladimir Poznyak said:
“Unfortunately, the implementation of the most effective policy options is lagging behind the magnitude of the problems,” he said. Adding that, “projections suggested both worldwide alcohol consumption and the related harms were set to rise in the coming years.”
He warned that “governments need to do more to meet the global targets and to reduce the burden of alcohol on societies; this is clear, and this action is either absent or not sufficient in most of the countries of the world”.
Two things are apparent from the report that alcohol is a real problem and that the current solutions being offered are not working. In the same way as other policies under capitalism, they are implemented long after the horse has bolted and refuse to look at the real underlying reasons behind the problem.
For most, consuming alcohol is a lifestyle choice, unlike the many other problems with health in the modern world such as obesity and intake of sugar. Alcohol is not found in everyday foods, but has become part of everyday life. One has to make a coherent (or at times incoherent) choice to consume it. For years, there have been contradicting studies regarding the positive and negative effects of alcohol on a person’s health. The reality is that in communities and societies where alcohol is prevalent, the destructive social and health problems it causes are all too apparent.
The availability of a wider range and cheaper products at supermarkets has meant that having the odd glass (or three) of wine after a hard day at work has become normal practise. Despite numerous attempts to educate people on the number of units they should be consuming a week, the idea of alcohol being a deserved reward for working hard outweighs any thought of the harm it is doing to the drinker.
Those who drink to excess, do so for a number of socio-economic reasons and capitalism fails to address any of these. Often, those consuming alcohol do so to escape other problems which societies based on consumerism and individualism will inevitably suffer.
Capitalism is extremely effective at marketing a life based around having the best of everything: the latest gadgets, a great relationship and more recently the perfectly posted selfie moment. The issue, is that those who do not have all these things are not given the tools to deal with the ‘disappointment’ that comes from this and they often find themselves turning to alcohol to fill a void left in their lives.
Alcohol-related problems are not unique to a particular socio-economic demographic, although the manner in which different groups consume it and the varieties they prefer, are different. The fact of the matter is that no-one is immune from the negative effects of alcohol being the centre of life. The reasons behind its consumption are as varied as the individuals who partake in it, from the binge drinkers, ‘lad’ culture, to professional well-paid executives using it as a way to relax: everyone has a story. All of these are linked to something missing in the very social fabric of capitalist societies: this is not to denigrate the people, rather the system itself, which has created a way of life not fit for purpose.
It is true that governments do indeed need to do more to tackle the problems of drinking. However, societies based on capitalism are ill-equipped to deal with the root causes of the problem. Even if by some secular miracle the global problem of consumption was to disappear, people would simply switch to a different kind of ‘poison’ to give them a purpose and belonging in a world that increasingly has none.
In reality, if a human being is unable to find tranquility and peace of mind from his or her surroundings then they will inevitably search for a way to escape. Capitalism offers this escape in the form materialism and sensual enjoyment.
Social media, hyper-consumerism and a lack of self-worth are all increasing the pressures ordinary people are feeling in modern society. People feel worthless for not looking the right way, for not driving the right car or just being overwhelmed by everyday life. Add to this the economic downturn and austerity and the perfect storm of societal breakdown is formed.
Capitalism not only creates all these woes, but it also offers a heavily taxed solution: in business speak, it is a win-win for capitalism. The only time this becomes an issue is when the side-effects result in a burden being placed on policing and the healthcare. In other words, capitalism only reacts when the bottom line is affected.
The only real way to deal with the crisis alcohol is creating in the world, is to address the problems of modern society in a holistic manner and not simply treat the symptoms when they become apparent. The biggest challenge of any society is to mould individuals who feel they have self-worth beyond their material possessions and whose purpose in life is not dictated by what they see on Instagram or Facebook. Having principled individuals in society who are aware of their purpose and responsibility to wider society will ensure that alcohol is seen as neither an escape nor a fulfillment of pleasure.
Islam has clear rules prohibiting the consumption of alcohol – not because of the negative medical side effects it has, rather because of the negative societal effects its consumption has.
“They question thee about strong drinks and games of chance. Say: In both is great sin, and (some) utility for men; but the sin of them is greater than their usefulness.” [Al-Baqarah:219]
It is narrated that when the verses of the Quran were revealed forbidding alcohol, the Companions destroyed their existing stock of alcohol and some were even vomiting the alcohol they had consumed previously.
This kind of submission to the rules of Allah (ﷻ) would be shunned and seen as something laughable in today’s self-centred world. However, it is a perfect example of how easy it is to do.
The commodification of alcohol has caused multiple social problems and the liberal west have handcuffed themselves in solving the root issue. As a result, they implement policies which deal with the symptoms and these are from root causes that they have legalised. Islam on the other hand prohibits intoxicants, irrespective of the tax that can be collected or any partial benefits it may have. Islam removed man from determining what is right and wrong – thus guarding against human desire becoming the criterion for determining what is right and wrong, and allowing this criteria to be defined by the only credible source able to do so – Allah (ﷻ).