alcohol abuse
Alcohol abuse is a global phenomenon. Alcoholic preferences vary across the globe — vodka is widely considered Russia’s drink of choice, while beer tends to be America’s favorite — but there is something most nations have in common, save many countries in the Middle East where alcohol is strictly forbidden. That is the existence of alcohol related disorders. One of the countries with the highest prevalence is Uganda.

On average, according to data based on official records and representative surveys accumulated in the World Health Organization’s 2014 Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health, Ugandan drinkers drink 23.7 liters of pure alcohol a year per capita. Males typically consume 25.6 liters while females drink 19.6 liters. American drinkers, in comparison, drink 13.3 liters. As a consequence of what’s often excessive drinking in Uganda, 10 percent of males and 1.5 percent of females have an alcohol related disorder. That’s about three in every 50 people.

The high statistics are in part due to alcoholic beverages particular to the region. Many African countries produce their alcohol locally from sorghum, millet and other agricultural products. The alcoholic beverages industrialized countries are fond of, such as beer and vodka, may be scarce in Uganda, but this is no remedy for abuse.

The consequences of alcohol abuse are relentless and strongly correlate with poverty. One must factor not only the money spent on alcohol, but also the low wages and lost employment opportunities due to missed work and decreased efficiency, and the high medical expenses following alcohol-inspired illness — that is, if one is lucky enough to receive legitimate treatment at all. Otherwise, death is the harsh but likely consequence.

Many of the worst alcohol-related illnesses are neurological. One common neurological disease, called Central pontine myelinolysis (also called Osmotic demyelination syndrome,) is characterized by severe damage to the myelin sheath, a protective insulator coating nerve cells that is essential for the nervous system to function properly. This results in difficulty moving (paralysis,) swallowing (dysphagia) and speaking (dysarthria.)

Another area of the brain that is seriously affected by Central pontine myelinolysis is the pons, a small (about 2.5 centimeters) part of the brain stem. Its job is to relay messages from the forebrain, including the cerebral cortex and the limbic system, to the cerebellum. It is also associated with autonomic functions such as with sleep, respiration, swallowing, bladder control, hearing, equilibrium, taste, eye movement, facial expressions, facial sensation and posture.

Damage to the pons affects these automatic functions, making them more difficult for your body to control and produce. This severe consequence of alcohol abuse effectively renders the drinker useless in a developing society. He or she requires medical assistance and constant attention, which drains resources that may not be readily available in places like rural Uganda. Excessive drinking, in this way, is a neurologic roadblock to poverty reduction.

Alcohol, however, not only prolongs poverty but is also promoted by it. Impoverished people without hope for an economic upturn are more likely to spend their money on whimsical, instant pleasures like alcohol and drugs than on investments for a future they don’t think exists. This is why education and hope-giving humanitarian projects are so crucial to long-term development.

– Adam Kaminski 

Sources: WHO, MedlinePlus
Photo: The Promota