While it is known that alcohol consumption has always been high among men, the recently released National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) for 2019-2021 has found that only 1% of women, aged 15-49, drink alcohol in the country, compared to 22% of men. The overall consumption is high in rural areas, stated the report.
In Karnataka, 0.3% of women consume alcohol, below the national average. But 23.1% of men do so, which is higher than the national average.
NIMHANS Director Pratima Murthy said the reduction in consumption as per the NFHS-5 report could also be due to the non-availability during the COVID-19 lockdown, as the report is for 2019-2021.
The percentage of women who consume alcohol is the highest in Arunachal Pradesh (18%), followed by Sikkim (15%). Alcohol use among men is the highest in Goa (59%), followed by Arunachal Pradesh (57%), and Telangana (50%), while it is the lowest in Lakshadweep (1%).
Among women who drink alcohol, 17% consume it almost every day and 37% drink about once a week. Among men, while 15% consume almost daily, 43% drink about once a week, and 42% do less than once a week.
Drinking alcohol is more common among women from Scheduled Tribes (4%) than from any other caste/tribe group.
Consumption is also most common among Christian men (36%) and men belonging to “other” religions (49%). The “other” religions here are those apart from the Hindu, the Muslim, the Christian, the Sikh, the Buddhist/Neo-Buddhist, and the Jain communities.
Drinking is also seen in 33% of men with less than 5 years of schooling, 34% of those from Scheduled Tribes, and 30% of those in the age group of 35-49.
Overall the proportion of men who drink alcohol decreased from 29% to 22% between NFHS-4 in 2015-2016 and NFHS-5 in 2019-2021. During that period, the proportion of women who drink has remained unchanged, according to the report.
NIMHANS Director Pratima Murthy, who was part of a study that found that excessive alcohol consumption can cause irreversible changes to the DNA and that changes may persist even when it is no longer consumed, said the reduction in consumption as per the NFHS-5 report could also be due to the non-availability during the COVID-19 lockdown, as the report is for 2019-2021.
The study by NIMHANS, published last year in the American Journal of Medical Genetics, found that the effects of alcohol were more pronounced in those who had started at an early age.
Dr. Murthy told The Hindu that the findings suggest that starting to drink early may physically alter many genes, including those of the brain. “This may have a significant effect on brain development and maturation that may persist to the later adult life,” she said.
Increase in sales
Vivek Benegal, Professor of Psychiatry, who heads the Centre for Addiction Medicine at NIMHANS, said that the overall reduction in consumption is a welcome change. However, it needs to be seen in the perspective of the consistent increase in sales and production of alcohol.
“The findings will have to be balanced with consistent increase in sales and production of alcohol during the period when the reduction has been observed. It is essential to get more data through new studies which will support the NFHS-5 findings. If the per capita consumption reduces, it will help in bringing down social and health costs attributable to alcohol,” Dr. Benegal pointed out.