SENEGAL: "Worrying” rise in alcohol abuse

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Alcohol abuse in Senegal has reached “massive” levels but most addicts are not receiving the help they need, according to experts.

“Over the last five years I have seen consumption grow and grow," said Abdoulaye Diouf, head of the Jacques Chirac drug information and awareness centre in the capital Dakar. "More and more people drink [to excess]’s very worrying.”

The trend reflects a global phenomenon. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2008 Global Burden of Disease study shows that in both low- and high-income countries the harmful use of alcohol is now among the 10 leading causes of disability.

Causal relationships were found between average volume of alcohol consumption and more than 60 types of disease and injury.

Each year more than two million people die worldwide from alcohol-related causes.

Drinking patterns around the world have changed in recent years, with consumption increasing the most markedly in developing countries, according to WHO. Drinking to excess among the general population and heavy episodic drinking among young people are also on the rise in many countries, WHO says.

“Health problems associated with alcohol consumption have reached alarming levels, and alcohol use contributes to a wide range of diseases, health conditions and high-risk behaviours, from mental disorders and road traffic injuries, to liver diseases and unsafe sexual behaviour,” the study says.

Social factors, fallout

In Senegal the impact of alcohol abuse has wide social implications.

Bamar Gueye, secretary-general of the Senegalese NGO Jamra, which works to combat drug use in Senegal, believes alcohol is at the heart of many security problems in the country.

“Where you find crime and violence, there is very often a link with alcohol," he said. "If there’s a commotion, say after a football match in the neighbourhoods, often young men have been drinking and it makes matters worse. It makes them aggressive."

He added: "In many cases of rape, also, alcohol is a factor."

NGO staff who work with addicts in Senegal say people turn to alcohol for various reasons.

“Often [young people drink] because they are bored," said Diouf, head of the drug awareness centre. "They don’t have a job and may have abandoned school at a young age. They want to do what their friends do. Also, programmes on TV trivialise the drinking of alcohol.”

The Jacques Chirac centre provides neighbourhood outreach programmes as well as leisure activities to combat the boredom which can lead to substance abuse.

Increased accessibility to alcohol also plays an important role in its growing misuse, Diouf told IRIN.

Alcohol can be bought a lot more easily now. There are ‘clandos’ [clandestine bars] in many areas and people sell individual containers on the street. They divide up bottles so that even the poorest can afford alcohol."

But despite evidence of rising consumption Jamra’s Gueye said he believes that local authorities do not take the issue seriously.

Overlooked by authorities?

“Millions [of CFA francs] are spent on other health problems like AIDS or malaria but there’s not even an official programme to fight alcohol," he said. "It’s grouped under ‘drugs’ but is often overlooked."
According to Gueye, it falls to NGOs to provide the bulk of support to alcoholics. Jamra runs a therapy initiative called ‘The Circle’ which encourages addicts to come with a loved one to talk through their issues. A mediation service is on offer to try to help - sometimes fractured - family relationships. Patients are referred to a psychiatrist if deemed necessary.

At the Jacques Chirac centre in Thiaroye, 15km east of Dakar, plans are in place to build Senegal’s first ‘therapeutic community’ – a residential base where patients can be treated. The Pikine mayor's office has offered land in Keur Massar, 35km east of Dakar. The Jacques Chirac centre is working to raise funds internationally.


While the help offered to alcoholics is considered scant by some experts, the socially taboo nature of alcohol misuse in Senegal -- predominantly Muslim -- makes it even more difficult for sufferers to speak out.

“Alcoholics are breaking the norms of society here and so they are rejected even more [than in other societies]," Diouf said. This contributes further to their marginalisation."

For Jamra’s Gueye, both the state and citizens need to take more notice of the issue, but a subtle approach is crucial.

“We must not stigmatise the problem any further," he said. "Everywhere in the world, we’ve seen the negative effects of alcohol. But you can’t force people [to behave in a certain way]. The answer is to make them aware of the consequences of alcohol very early on.”

Gueye added: "We need to show them alcohol is not an escape from their problems, and that its effects can be devastating."