The frustration of being told ‘you’re underage’, while you just want to have one chill weekend at a bar, is common amongst Indian youth. In a country where the socio-cultural practices never seem to end, different policies across the Nation have resulted in confusion as to what is actually the legal drinking age in India.
The different kinds of drinking
The term 'alcohol' refers to 'ethyl alcohol', which is consumed in diluted concentrations. The quantity of this differs among the types of alcoholic beverages. One reason why the legal drinking age in India is a big concern is that youth often are not aware of the different types of drinking. They may then, just resort to a wrong drinking pattern.
Social drinking or moderate drinking refers to having not more than two drinks per day for men, and for women, this number is one drink a day. For example, alcoholic drinks may be served to "wet the baby's head" in the celebration of a birth. Buying the guys an alcoholic drink is often considered a gesture of goodwill. Drinking to celebrate, raising a toast to the good times, or sorting out a dispute over a glass of cheer, is what social drinking comprises.
Downing your drinks in a sitting! This refers to the consumption of five or more alcoholic drinks on a single occasion. The nights you get sloshed, well, now it has a name! The concept of a "binge" has been somewhat elastic over the years, implying consumption of alcohol far beyond that which is socially acceptable. In days of old, "going on a binge" meant drinking over the course of several days. This concept gave birth to the English idiom "fill a boat with water".
Harmful drinking pattern
Those with an alcohol consumption pattern that results in physical or psychological harm to the individual or society, is characterised as harmful drinking and is a disorder! Those who regularly overindulge in alcohol can find that it begins to negatively impact their life. This overindulgence over a long period can lead to alcoholism.
Hazardous drinking pattern
If you identify as a person with a hazardous drinking pattern, you're in for serious trouble! Adverse health disorders such as liver disease, rupture, maybe in the pipeline. The liver breaks down most of the alcohol you drink so that it can be removed from the body. This creates substances that are even more harmful than alcohol. These substances can damage liver cells and cause serious liver disease.
A cluster of behavioural, cognitive and physiological phenomena that develop after repeated alcohol use. This condition induces a strong desire to consume alcohol, difficulties in controlling its use, persisting in its use despite harmful consequences. In a nutshell, a higher priority given to alcohol use than to other activities and obligations.
The global stats of deaths caused due to intoxication are shocking! 50% of deaths are caused by liver cirrhosis, 30% because of cancers, 22% caused by inter-personal violence, 22% because of self-harm, 15% by traffic injuries, 12% because of tuberculosis (TB) and 12% of the deaths caused by liver cancer.
Due to excessive drinking, a person may suffer from Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). The person faces a problem controlling their drinking or is just too preoccupied with it. He/she continues to have a swig even though it's wrecking their life. Well, we all have cravings for a drink after a long day, but these brand of people go crazy when they can't have it, sometimes even having withdrawal symptoms.
The National Mental Health Survey of India 2015-16 found the prevalence of AUDs to be 9% in adult men. In India, the alcohol-attributable fraction (AAF) of all-cause deaths were found to be 5.4%. Around 62.9% of all the deaths due to liver cirrhosis were attributable to alcohol use.
These statistics go on to highlight just how dangerous alcohol proves to be if consumed in unmonitored amounts.
Medical consequences of excessive alcohol use
Before delving into the mysteries of the human body and why the alcohol beverage isn't just it's a favourite drink, it is important to understand exactly how your body reacts.
to alcohol intake. When alcoholic beverages are consumed, alcohol gets absorbed from the stomach and small intestine and is then distributed through blood circulation to every organ in the body. The alcohol gets absorbed by the liver at a rapid pace and excreted through the kidneys, which accounts for 95% to 98% of the alcohol consumed. This high intoxication level can cause serious complications such as
Gastrointestinal (GI) complications
The direct effect of alcohol on the lining of the stomach can lead to acute gastritis and present as vomiting, usually associated with heavy drinking. Repeated damage can lead to hyperacidity which further fosters the environment for peptic ulcers. This can further cause haemorrhagic gastritis, which is the most common complication of long-term alcohol alcoholic liver disease (ALD).
When you drink an alcohol beverage, your body breaks it down into a chemical called acetaldehyde, which damages your DNA and prevents your body from repairing the damage. DNA is the cell's "instruction manual" that controls a cell's normal growth and function. When DNA is damaged, a cell can begin growing out of control and create a cancer tumour. Drinking as few as 1.5 drinks per day startlingly increase a woman's risk of breast cancer 1.4-fold. For both the genders, four drinks per day increase the risk for oral and oesophageal cancers by approximately three-fold and rectal cancers by 1.5 fold.
Changes in the genitourinary system
Your urinary and genital system does also suffer the impact of excess alcohol. Modest doses of ethanol can not only increase sexual drive but can also lead to a decrease in the erectile capacity in men, accompanied by a decrease in the ejaculate volume and a low sperm count.
Between one-half and two-thirds of alcoholics can have skeletal muscle weakness caused by intake of a crazy amount of alcohol.
The short-term effects of alcohol consumption include blackouts, blurred vision, impaired memory and slower reaction times.
Consuming alcoholic beverages to overcome depression and anxiety has been a common practice. Though alcohol can relieve those conditions to some extent initially, it starts to deplete the neurotransmitter serotonin in the brain, causing depression and anxiety and the need to consume more alcohol to medicate depression arises. Additionally, research has shown there to be an increased suicide tendency among alcohol users compared to non-users.
While these medical complications are enough to befuddle experts into deciding a legal age for drinking, there are social issues which crop up, which only worsen the confusion.
Social consequences of alcohol use
The media is filled with instances of rape, abuse and domestic violence, with the cause being linked to alcohol consumption. Studies have found that emotionally abusing the spouse was found to be 2.5 times more common among persons who consume alcohol. The economic impact of alcohol consumption plays a major role in families belonging to lower socio-economic strata. There is an empirical association found between the use of alcohol and tobacco and impoverishment through borrowing and selling off assets in distress because of hospitalisation.
If it's all fine on the family front, there is the other angle of accidents. In a study conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) in 12 major hospitals of Bangalore city, it was found that nearly 28% of injuries because of road traffic accidents were directly attributable to alcohol. The roadside survey revealed that nearly up to 40% of the drivers were under the influence of alcohol.
Another important area where complications arise because of alcohol abuse is legal problems. Sexual/physical assault, rape, exploitation of women in commercial sex work and homicide, are seen due to intoxication. Drunken driving results in an increase in the reaction time, overconfidence, degraded muscle coordination, impaired concentration and decreased auditory and visual acuity.
While the rant has been on the dangers and the poison that alcohol is, there is a beneficial element to it too. Drinking in moderate amounts is good for the heart in preventing coronary artery diseases (CADs). However, individual susceptibility plays a major role in the protective benefits of alcohol consumption. The American Heart Association (AHA) states that 'it is not possible to predict in which people alcoholism will become a problem' and advice not to consume alcohol for the benefits it may carry.
Alcohol can be good too, say, doctors
R. Curtis EllisonYouth, MD, Professor of Medicine and Public Health at the Boston University School of Medicine, while advocating the consumption of alcohol, said "While I am not recommending that everyone should drink, it is important that the public be given the truth. Middle-aged and older people should be aware that, unless contraindicated, the regular consumption of a small amount of alcohol each day is associated with a lower risk of most of the diseases of ageing, and with a longer lifespan."
He says drinking patterns are what make a big difference. "Fourteen drinks a week can mean two drinks a day, or all 14 drinks in one weekend there's a striking difference between the two. What you drink also can make a difference. Animal data and epidemiological data support that wine drinkers do better, even when you control for eating and health habits”. He warns that public health experts are being paternalistic by not telling people the entire truth in the interest of trying to do what's best for them. "It's the concern that if we tell people one drink a day is good that they'll go out and have two-there's no evidence that's happening," Dr Ellison said. "Let's make sure we use education, not paternalism."
Why alcohol is such a big deal in India
Although the prohibition of alcohol use is encouraged in the constitution of India, alcohol policy is a state subject. States are having full control of alcohol-related legislation, excise rates and the production, distribution and sale of alcohol. The reason why alcohol and legal drinking age in India is such a debate is that deciding the legal drinking age in India is not a centralised process. The Constitution of India under Article 47 has empowered each state to bring out the prohibition of the consumption of intoxicating drinks and drugs. Which is why each state has enacted different laws for liquor consumption and purchase. While some states have completely banned it, some have enforced prohibition up to a certain age.
The legal drinking age in India
In most states, if you're an adult, you are eligible to buy liquor. However, to be able to consume the same, the permitted age varies from 18 to 25 years depending on the state. Each state has to monitor alcohol sales and consumption for various reasons.
Ranging from 18 years in Goa, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Puducherry and Sikkim, 21 years in Andaman and Nicobar, Arunachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu and Telangana, 25 years in Chandigarh, Daman and Diu, Delhi and Punjab to completely being illegal in Bihar, Gujarat, Lakshadweep, Nagaland, and a partial prohibition in Manipur, the legal age in India differs much.
Alcohol is one of the highest-taxed commodity in India and it is easier to keep track of liquor if each state keeps a track for itself. A state government also has to look out for the well being of its people and if they feel that alcohol is going to be a problem for the future of the state, they have the right to prohibit it or even completely ban it. Thus the concept of 'dry days'.
These when the state governments prohibit the sale of alcohol, which often surprises tourists.
Legal drinking age in India: a bummer for under-age drinkers?
The metro cities in India are known for their nightlife! While Mumbai may have the country's biggest selection of places to party-and restaurants and malls are allowed to stay open 24 hours day-most pubs and restaurants may serve alcohol only until 1:30 a.m. A similar scene is seen in Delhi, where city bars have a 1 a.m. curfew. However, youth have often complained that the legal drinking age in India sometimes dampens the vibrant spirit of the nightlife. Many eateries in India do not sell alcohol and thus many venture into the "resto-pubs" or "resto-bars," where one can drink and sometimes dance late into the night. Goa, known as a hedonistic, hippie state, has a reputation for outdoor psychedelic trance parties despite tough regulations.
States push to bring down the legal drinking age in India
The Punjab hospitality industry sought an amendment to bring down the legal drinking age from 25 years to 18 years. The industry is seeking this with an eye on the 18-25 age group - to spur liquor sales. Hotel, Restaurant and Resort Association (HRRA), Punjab, has written to Punjab chief minister for reducing the legal drinking age to 18 years, bringing it at par with Goa and other states. The association's Punjab president, Satish Arora, argued that when a person can vote and hold a driving licence on turning 18 years old, why the bar on consuming liquor. "Tourists below the age of 25 years coming from other states raise objections over not being served liquor. We find it hard to convince them."
The youth, however, are much ahead in the game. While states fight the battle to bring down the legal drinking age in India, youth manage to procure alcohol from their sources, thus having their freedom much before, legally allowed.
Youth drink before the legal drinking age in India
A survey to assess the prevalence of underage drinking found that 88.8 per cent youth start drinking before the minimum drinking age in India and procure alcohol without any age check. It also found that young people consume alcohol to get inebriated and end up consuming five drinks or more, with 87.3 per cent of the 10,000 respondents confessing to binge drinking.
The results of the survey found that 98.1 per cent of the respondents were aware that the legal drinking age was 25 years in Delhi, but 88.8 per cent of the youth still consumed alcohol before turning 25.
This highlights the ease with which youth purchase and consume alcohol without any check, Prince Singhal, activist, road safety expert and founder of CADD, said, "As a community, we have a casual approach towards alcohol consumption among youth. With changing trends in society, we are pushing our young people towards alcoholism. There is no check carried out at points of sale or consumption to assess the age of the buyers, and penalties and punishments for underage consumption of alcohol are absent. The survey reveals that while 66.7 per cent of the respondents obtained their alcohol from bars, pubs, liquor shops, and restaurants, etc, 19. 9 per cent of youth obtained it from family members, friends, or older siblings."
What the youth say
Youth voice their opinion on the matter, saying "Whether it is laws, penalties, enforcement or an awareness mechanism, there are several missing links when it comes to addressing the minimum drinking age crisis, as our administration is unaware or unwilling to address this social menace,"
Another under-age said "By the time a person is 21, they already have the right to vote, drive and marry. This is the age by which many become financially independent. It is absurd to believe that these legal adults cannot handle alcohol. If the legal drinking age in India is reduced to 21, people will be able to drink and buy alcohol from supervised and licensed restaurants, bars and shops."
Resonating this sentiment, a third said "The minimum drinking age in India should be reduced to 21. When we are given the right to elect our own government at 18, it is obvious that people above 21 years will be able to decide what is right or wrong in the context of alcohol consumption. The government should make people aware of the consequences of alcohol consumption. The existing rules should be enforced more strictly to ensure that people stick to them."