Written by Jacqueline Mhlanga

Our townships are plagued with many ills that can be traced to alcohol abuse. Broken families, violence, irresponsible sex, fetal alcohol syndrome in pregnancies, under age drinking, the list is endless. Although we blame people that abuse alcohol and sympathise with the victims of alcohol abuse, the unborn children, the women who suffer abuse because of abuse alcohol, the victims of accidents caused by people who drink irresponsibly. Our biggest question should be how do we promote responsible drinking and reduce the scourge of alcohol abuse in our township communities.

It is time our communities took responsibility and looked for solutions to stop the abuse of alcohol or any substance abuse. We have been able to stand up and face many adversities, the abuse of alcohol should be treated in the same light, by standing together to help one another to stop this continuous abuse of alcohol from generation to generation, which is now plaguing our youth.

The tendency in our communities to make light and joke about the “drunk uncle” or the “village drunk”, when little is said about the effects of the alcohol abuse on the families, that have to live through the alcohol abuse. Children suffer lack of parenting and witness abuse on a daily basis due to alcohol abuse. Time is now for us as communities to stand up and speak about the abuse of alcohol without blaming “the bottle”.

It is time to stop laughing about the “drunk uncle” and to start having meaningful conversations about the effects and side effects of alcohol abuse. It is time to shift the laughter and banter to accountability, holding people accountable. Teaching the next generation about responsible drinking is key to the conversations. It is time to stop blaming the “bottle” for poor decision making,

The effects of the bad choices under the influence of alcohol are felt from generation to generation. Children of alcoholic parents are most likely to also become alcoholics. Setting examples of responsible drinking is possible. If other communities world wide can curb and control the abuse of alcohol to certain extents, so can we. The townships are plied with alcohol. On the weekends, more so month end, the air is electric and rife with expectancy for binge drinking. Crime escalates at this time and levels of abuse – children in fear, as parents lose control due to alcohol abuse. Domestic abuse is on the rise due to alcohol abuse.

What legacy are we leaving behind, should be a question we ask our communities, in conversations about alcohol abuse. Alcohol is not a therapist, therefore it should not be used to address the problems we face on the day to day. Using alcohol to escape life challenges, and using alcohol to address issues is abuse of alcohol. Our communities need to send clear messages to the youth, that abusing alcohol is not a matter to laugh at, but to confront and redress.

We need to stop laughing about the serious issue of alcohol abuse and start serious conversations about how we will help each other to drink responsibly. One may ask, what conversations shall we have? Part of the conversations could be around positive encouragement and concern for each other’s well being.

Our social circle begins with family. Family helps us to be grounded, “keep it together” and part of that includes holding us responsible. Our duty as communities needs to shine the spotlight on addressing alcohol abuse now more than ever. The rampant levels of crime caused by alcohol abuse has reached alarming rates. Some of the conversations we can start can be amongst friends, ask the difficult questions, which may feel like judgement, but can result in friends who abuse alcohol questioning their own actions. Holding each other accountable instead of laughing at how people cannot hold their liquor.

Lets starting tackling alcohol abuse head on and with intention. Some conversations to be had:

“What is wrong, and how can I help for you not to turn to alcohol?”, in cases where alcohol is used as an escape, be the shoulder, the psychologist. “Before you offer me a drink, are your children’s needs met?”, be the brother and voice of reason. “Brother, let’s drink once you have taken care of family responsibilities”, be the friend who sees your future. “Are you on medication, are you supposed to be drinking”, be the physician. “Be responsible and stop drinking during your pregnancy, this affects your baby”, be the doctor. “I will not let you drive while you are drunk”, be the law enforcement. We need to stop making light of serious issues which plague our communities and affect our growth.

Stop laughing at our drunk uncles and tackle the underlying issues. The bottle is not a solution, and as much as we have been taught that “uhlulwa butshwala” (one is too weak to handle their liquor) or one is a hero because of alcohol, what we should be preaching is how to tackle alcohol abuse. Drinking responsibly is a conversation we should be having with our children, and not creating heroes or laughing stock of people who abuse alcohol, and saying they cannot help themselves. It is our responsibility to send the message of responsible drinking.