Community in Crisis: Alcoholism, Culture, and Sober Solutions.

As Seen On: Alcohol Health Alliance

Alcohol harm affects individuals and communities in different ways. The wide spectrum of harm makes it difficult to find a “one size fits all” approach to addiction treatment and perhaps goes some way to explaining why 92% of all people in treatment for addiction are recorded as White. In this blog, I will reflect upon how alcohol harm has impacted the Punjabi Sikh community in the UK and what needs to change in order for her community to receive effective support and treatment.

Welcome to Britain. Where there are more off-licences than churches. Where it is easier to purchase alcohol than to pass your driver’s licence.With alcohol all around us, it is no surprise that Britain has a contagious pub culture. As a young female Sikh who was born and raised in Britain, I have lost countless loved ones to the intoxication and glamorisation of alcohol within my culture.

There is a myth that exists in this country that communities like mine abstain from alcohol and do not experiencing the same harm as the White British community – but you’re just not looking hard enough to see the truth.

Within Punjabi households, there is an unspoken acceptance of alcohol as a norm that continues to have a detrimental impact on all members of our community.

At the tender age of seven, I witnessed plenty of drinking within my Punjabi household and attended countless Punjabi weddings that glamourised alcohol. As a child growing up in this environment, I learned that alcohol is socially acceptable. At family gatherings there is a trend where some men dip a finger into alcohol and place it into the mouths of young children. With taste being a powerful human sense, this behaviour exposes the sensibilities of the young to alcohol. I believe this behaviour is rooted in ignorance and I urge members of my community to challenge it and be protective of the young.

So alcohol is there, everywhere – but we don’t necessarily speak about it and its related harms. By ignoring the problem, most aspects of family life become fragmented and dysfunctional. This is a never-ending vicious cycle for many families.

Finding help for our community is difficult. Tailored support for those from Black, Asian and minority communities is incredibly hard to find. With few culturally effective support services, many who experience addiction are vulnerable to ill-health and an inability to change their circumstances.

I fear that my generation are becoming the new casualties of untreated alcohol addiction, compounded by the pandemic in modern Britain. We need fit for purpose services not only for the young but for the adults as well in my community.

Generic service provision and one size fits all approaches to treatment, has failed to recognise and respond to cultural sensitivities and cultural differences, including issues related to mistrust, stigma and racial discrimination experienced by these marginalised communities.

If we want to see change, treatment providers will have to go into communities in order to get a better understanding of our stories and ensure that services are community-led where appropriate. In communities where drink and other drugs is taboo, we find that addiction is prevalent and we suffer alone.

For example, Punjabi men are stereotypically extremely proud. They are seemingly known for their pride and their reputation and this can on occasions get in the way of getting help.

It can be difficult for Punjabi women to leave home due to violence or alcohol harm. Often the word ‘izzat’ (family honour) prevents them from seeking refuge elsewhere.

If a woman drinks or has a drinking problem then they have dishonoured their family and the consequences for this are insurmountable.

Because of the shame attached to drinking, many Punjabi women do so in secret. Those who develop alcohol addiction often do not seek support and are hidden under the blanket of stigma.

Addiction stigma can have debilitating effects on mental health, self-worth and social confidence. The minds of the affected are consumed by such internal commentary often related to izzat – “What will people think?”, “What will people say?”, “They are gossiping”. This is on a repeat, as if a record stuck in a never-ending grove.

The impact of addiction stigma is widespread in my community, it affects everyone and is intensified for women and young girls.

Understanding these cultural attitudes will help treatment providers be better equipped with understanding our story. To address stigma and shame it requires compassion, cultural empathy and a relatable understanding rooted in a shared cultural landscape.

I sincerely believe that authentic change in attitudes, solutions and fit for purpose service offer must be a joint effort and community driven. Ethnic minority communities must be included and consulted at all structures of the treatment system, decision-making, service design and so forth.

We must invest and put resources into grassroots providers both specialist and peer led services as cited in numerous research publications.

Within our communities, in particular the Punjabi Indian community, we must address stigma, shame and culturally accepted norms around addiction. The change must happen urgently – before we lose another generation to the substance of alcohol.

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