Alcohol abuse has been established to have far-reaching negative implications. The WHO estimates that every year alcohol consumption
causes 2.5 million deaths and 69.4 million Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs). Extreme alcohol use also leads to a number of chronic diseases and traumatic outcomes, as well as a range of health and social consequences.
Migrant populations, who have often undergone trauma and separation from their families and social networks, are both particularly susceptible and particularly vulnerable to the hazards of extreme alcohol consumption. In refugee and IDP camps, small packages of hard liquors can be purchased for as cheap as 10 US cents, offering to migrants a refuge from the difficulties of daily life or an escape from the sense of idleness that often accompanies camp life. Moreover, patterns of heavy drinking can lead to losses of productivity (i.e. choosing to drink instead of going to work in the gardens) and the draining of critically needed funds, not to mention domestic violence and social unrest.
Despite known links between alcohol abuse and issues of health, poverty, and violence, little concentrated action has been directed towards vulnerable migrant populations. This is not due to a lack of capability. An inexhaustible list of NGOs and agencies have long been working with migrant groups on related issues, yet remarkably few organizations include alcohol education or rehabilitation among their list of programs. This gap represents an unfortunate missed opportunity.
Recently, the issue of extreme drinking has been thrown into the world
spotlight in specific reference to Four Loko, a highly-caffeinated and highly-alcoholic beverage sold in the United States. Sometimes referred to as a “blackout in a can,” the 23.4 ounce beverage contains the equivalent of six light beers and two coffees for the meager cost of 3 US Dollars. The drink has come under fire after being associated in the past month with a number of hospitalizations and the accidental death of a university student. Multiple US states have already banned the drink, and many more are considering taking similar action.
Instead of viewing Four Loko as an isolated issue, we should think of this debate as an opportunity to expand our conversation to include concerns about alcohol abuse in general. This moment has the potential to serve as a launching point for a comprehensive reevaluation of how specific governments and organizations might be uniquely poised to address extreme drinking among vulnerable populations such as migrants. Potential mechanisms to address alcohol abuse are already in place; now is the chance to capitalize on them.