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Columnists

Act fast before we lose youth to alcoholism

The methods we have employed to deal with the problem of alcoholism mirror those used by Europeans in the 18th century when both continents were overrun by many social evils, including alcoholism and pick-pocketing.

The United States, too, suffered a similar problem of rampant alcoholism immediately after the American Revolution.

This was partly due to economic and social problems precipitated by post-war economic disruptions such as high inflation, as well as the general trauma of war.

Efforts to deal with the problems by force did not bear fruit. Even severe sentences did not deter the rise of these problems.

We should learn from the past and employ tactics that address the root cause of this problem. It does not make sense to destroy local brews and leave more lethal imported brews on shelves.

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We must be fair even in adversity. The actions that we have already taken are not sustainable.

What we must do is to understand the dynamics in this industry and create an effective regulatory mechanism while addressing the real causes of alcoholism – unemployment and hopelessness – and exploit the latent potential in our youth before we lose the entire generation.

Alcoholism, crime and youth radicalisation and similar vices are often the result of idle youth with nothing meaningful to do with their lives. By dealing with the problem superficially, we are making the situation worse.

We need to address the problem more holistically by first recognising the fact that alcoholism is a disease that we must treat just like any other diseases.

Studies at America’s Mayo Clinic, a leading medico-research organisation, show that alcoholism is influenced by genetic, psychological, social and environmental factors that have an impact on how it affects your body and behaviour.

The process of becoming addicted to alcohol occurs gradually, although some people have an abnormal response to alcohol from the time they start drinking. Some are prone to addiction almost immediately after starting to consume alcohol.

Over time, drinking too much may change the normal balance of chemicals and nerve tracks in your brain associated with the experience of pleasure, judgment and the ability to exercise control over your behaviour.

This may result in your craving alcohol to restore good feelings or remove negative ones.

What, then, must we do to address the problems of restoring confidence, creating hope, and giving a sense of purpose to our people?

In my view, this is a national problem that we all must take responsibility for. On the social front, we must go back to our roots in order to address the problem of absentee fatherhood.

Fathers are an important stabilising force on the journey to responsible adulthood. We must have legislation to ensure fathers take responsibility for any contribution they make towards the global population.

Further, there is much we can borrow from the past by invoking our traditions on parenting, which might have been wiped out by “modernity.”

On the economic front, we should first create a National Economic Forum (NEF) to discuss various interventions to the rising youth bulge in Kenya.

Top on the list would be the recruitment of at least 10,000 youth from every county on an annual basis for intensive training around the trades where we have human resource deficit.

We also need to develop a programme to exploit talent for every county, isolate youths who are alcoholics and take them through a rehabilitation programme, and link the human resource to new opportunities in cottage industries or major investments.

Others, especially those in the creative economy, can be assisted to venture into the production of local content. The budget should come from the conversion of the Sh40 billion allocated to Constituency Development Fund to rescue our youth as a priority item before we lose them.

Additionally, the best way to deal with exponential supply of elicit brew is by dealing with the demand side through empowerment and education which will eventually push the producers into quality productions that can compete with imports.

At the same time, the religious groups and other concerned citizens must create something similar to the temperance movement started in the US at the height of severe alcoholism in the 18th century.

This movement fought against excessive consumption of alcohol and encouraged teetotalism.

All the nice plans we might have will amount to nothing if we don’t save our youth. We have no option but to create opportunities for our youth to stem the rising economic and social problems.

George Bernard Shaw said, “Alcohol is the anaesthesia by which we endure the operation of life.”

The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s Business School.

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