Alcoholism is on the rise in Thailand, wreaking havoc on individuals, families
Jessada Yaemsabai grew up surrounded by people with drinking problems but he never imagined he would end up becoming a victim of alcohol abuse.
Not that he was into the habit of drinking himself.
Mr Jessada was raised in a slum where consuming alcohol and drugs was a common sight. He made up his mind to steer clear of both. He moved out of the community, set up a small business and got married.
One night, the father of two and his wife were waiting at a red light when a car rear-ended their motorcycle and dragged him 15 metres down the road. The driver of the car was drunk.
Twenty-two years on, Mr Jessada is confined to a wheelchair. His wife has recovered from her injuries.
The family has exhausted one million baht of their hard-earned savings to treat him. Their assets were also sold to cover the additional costs of his treatment.
Helpless and in despair, Mr Jessada was sapped of the will to live. But he managed to pull himself together and overcome his suicidal thoughts.
At the back his mind, though, is lingering anger at how habitual drinking — dismissed by many as a relatively normal way of life — can destroy other people’s lives.
His story was aired at a recent discussion hosted by the Network of People Affected by Drinking in conjunction with the Child Youth and Family Foundation and the Women and Men Progressive Movement Foundation (WMP) with support from the Thai Health Promotion Foundation (ThaiHealth).
The event, which marks National No-Drinking Day, features four people whose lives were turned upside down by drinking, or as a result of someone else imbibing.
Rung-arun Limlahapan, director of ThaiHealth’s Office of Health Risk Control Plan, said National No-Drinking Day is held on Buddhist Lent, which this year falls today.
Figures show more than 20% of road accidents are caused by people driving under the influence of alcohol, with the damage costing some 90 billion baht a year. That percentage doubles during holidays, she said.
About 80% of people surveyed said they had been harmed by someone else drinking, often in brawls or as a result of other problems.
Alcohol is also known to lower a person’s immunity, an additional health problem during the Covid-19 pandemic.
ThaiHealth and its networks have campaigned to educate people about the danger of alcohol abuse despite a rise in drinkers, particularly among women and youths.
The campaign has been highlighted by two commercials centred on the theme of parents being at the forefront of drinking reduction and eradication efforts.
One commercial is called ‘Mr Dad, Enough with Alcohol” and the other “Beware of Cancer” which hammers home the message that prolonged alcohol consumption can lead to stomach, oesophagus or breast cancer.
One of the speakers, Jakkrapan Klanruengsang, said he started drinking when he was young and became addicted to alcohol after he was employed at a company. His hands would tremble whenever he didn’t drink alcohol.
The condition left him unable to work and he had to quit the company. Alcoholism drove him to the point where he would be vomiting blood. He later developed cirrhosis of the liver.
Weak and jobless, he is now being cared for by his mother.
Nathee (surname withheld), another heavy drinker, told the forum he started when he was 14. Looking back on his youth, he said he enrolled in a vocational school where fraternal ties run deep. He engaged in inter-school brawls and even stole things to win the acceptance of his peers and senior students.
While he was having a drink with some school friends one day, he learned that students from a rival institute were spotted close by. Feeling a bit drunk, he immediately approached them and shot and injured one of them.
“It was to prove I was loyal to [my friends] and that we were close-knit, a team, who would die for one another,” Nathee said.
He went to jail for the crime. None of his friends from the school went to visit him in prison.
At the forum, Fon (also a pseudonym) said that during her first marriage, she was assaulted frequently by her husband, even while pregnant. At one point he stabbed her with a knife, severing some of the tendons in her hand.
Fon left him and remarried only to learn her second husband was also an alcoholic. “It was like jumping out of the frying pan into the fire,” she said.
During the pandemic, her second husband lost his job and hit a pedestrian. The stress was too much for him to bear. He hanged himself a few months before Fon delivered her baby.
“This is what alcohol can do to you. Your life crumbles before your very eyes,” she said.
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Presenters dress as victims of alcohol abuse and hold placards about the dangers of drinking during a forum marking today’s National No-Drinking Day. (Photo: Penchan Charoensuthipan)