Alcohol consumption has been a part of Indian culture and tradition for centuries. However, with rising incomes and Western influences, alcohol consumption patterns in India are rapidly changing.
Rising alcohol consumption
According to WHO data, India is the largest consumer of alcohol in the world accounting for about 25% of the global consumption. Per capita alcohol consumption has increased from 2.4 liters per year in the 1980s to 5 liters presently. Several factors such as rising incomes, urbanization, changing lifestyles and aggressive marketing by companies have contributed to this rise. The youth population in cities drinks the most as they have greater disposable income and exposure to Western lifestyles. Consumption of hard liquor such as scotch and vodka has surpassed traditional drinks like fenny and toddy. States in North and East India such as Punjab, Haryana and West Bengal exhibit the highest per capita alcohol consumption.
Health impacts of harmful alcohol use
Harmful use of alcohol has emerged as a leading risk factor for disease burden and mortality in India. It is estimated to account for nearly 30% of all cancer cases and liver cirrhosis deaths. Excessive drinking increases the risk of health issues like liver disease, heart disease, pancreatitis, and several cancers. It also exacerbates pre-existing health conditions and increases the risk of injuries from accidents and violence. A recent study linked alcohol consumption to increased vulnerability to Covid-19. Besides individual health, alcohol poses societal costs through domestic violence, crime and loss of productivity. Children of problem drinkers are at higher risk of developmental, behavioral and social issues.
Substance abuse due to alcohol dependence
For many, recreational drinking descends into harmful use and alcohol dependence over time. Those suffering from alcohol use disorder find it difficult to control their drinking despite negative consequences. Dependence causes changes in brain functions that drive compulsive substance-seeking behaviors. In India, nearly 30 million people have alcohol use disorders. Among problem drinkers, dependency on other substances like tobacco, cannabis and opioids is also common. This poly-substance abuse poses complex health challenges. Lack of adequate rehab facilities has resulted in high relapse rates among those attempting to overcome dependence.
Need for evidence-based policy measures
Considering the significant disease burden and economic costs of harmful drinking, effective policy measures are needed. Taxation is recognized as one of the most cost-effective strategies for reducing alcohol consumption as well as raising tax revenues. However, India has lower alcohol taxes compared to global levels as powerful industry lobbies have stalled tax increases. Other policy tools such as regulating marketing and availability, screening and brief interventions in healthcare settings, and enforcement of drinking age limits need scaling up. Community mobilization programs engaging citizens and youth can help change social norms around alcohol usage. Overall, a public health approach versus a commercial approach is required to curb rising alcoholism in India Alcohol through evidence-backed multi-pronged strategies.
Addressing implementation challenges
While expert committees have consistently recommended stronger policy action, implementation remains a bottleneck area. Corruption, lax law enforcement and lack of inter-ministerial coordination have diluted the effectiveness of existing policies. For instance, many states fail to enforce bans on liquor shops near schools and rule violations by industry are seldom penalized. Addressing such governance issues is central to translating proposed measures into outcomes on the ground. Public support can also encourage political will for implementation. Expanding treatment services under flagship health programs would mainstream substance use disorders. With a coordinated push leveraging all stakeholders, India can emerge as a regional leader in lowering alcohol-linked disease burden cost-effectively.
1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it