Although alcohol consumption, particularly alcohol addiction, is a risk factor for many health problems in the country, the government allowed all the restaurants to sell alcoholic beverages. In fact, it is a leading single contributor to the global burden of disease.
Today, liver disease is the top non-communicable disease (NCD) killer in the country. In addition, the Annual Health Bulletin 2022 shows that common and prevalent mental health disorders in the country are anxiety, depression, and mental and behavioral disorders due to alcohol and substance abuse.
In addition to the most common disease categories that are entirely or partly caused by alcohol consumption, the law enforcement authorities and the media reported many social problems such as drinking and driving, youth and adolescent crimes, domestic violence, and rapes, among others, that are all associated to alcohol consumption.
However, with the government making alcohol easily available in the country, 4,125 restaurants and 700 alcohol retail outlets applied for alcohol licenses from 1 to 19 June this year. This brings the total to 17,000 alcohol outlets in the country making it almost one alcohol outlet for every 41 people.
While the decision to lift the restriction on the issuance of bar licenses is assumed to have positive effects on economic development, it is certain that this move will negatively impact on mental health and well-being of the people and increase the health expenditure incurred due to treatment of alcohol-related diseases.
The health minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo during the question hour session at the ongoing National Council (NC) session defended the government’s decision on easing access to alcohol saying there has been no evidence to prove that there was no significant reduction in alcohol consumption due to the ban.
She also said that there is no evidence that alcohol consumption has increased due to the increased number of bar licenses in the past years. We do not need to wait for evidence-based surveys and studies as alcoholic beverages are a routine part of the social landscape for many people.
Knowledge of these risks has helped the Ministry of Health in drafting the National Harm Reduction Policy and Strategy. Now the government should actively engage in advocacy and prevention to reduce alcohol consumption and alcohol-related issues. In the past, many such plans and programs have been in place but not implemented.