Alcohol consumption in Israel has been on the rise for two decades now. The especially worrisome trend is the fact that the age of people who consume alcohol is gradually declining – 75% percent of boys and 25% of girls in elementary school drink over the weekend at home, or during the week while celebrating outside the house.
The overall level of alcohol consumption in Israel is not high compared to developed countries. The world leader in this respect is Russia, where per capita consumption is estimated at 40 vodka bottles per year.
If we take into account the fact that drinking is much less prevalent among women, it means the average Russian man drinks about 70 vodka bottles per year.
About 4% of the men are chronic alcoholics, and alcoholism is considered one of the reasons for the low life expectancy of Russian men (about 60) compared to Russian women (about 72.)
Meanwhile, Britain, Australia, the United States and Japan are “drinking superpowers,” with average consumption of 20 to 30 whiskey bottles per year, and an alcoholism rate of about 1.5%.
In these countries too, liver disease, liver cancer, dementia, and mental disorders related to alcohol are common and constitute a grave health problem. In addition, about 20% of road accidents and many workplace accidents are attributed to alcohol.
In Israel the problem isn’t grave in respect to the adult population,. There are no accurate figures about alcohol consumption, but based on various data, the annual per capita consumption is roughly about 2 liters (based on 100% alcohol consumption); the alcoholics’ rate is less the 0.5%, and “only” 2% of car accidents are attributed to driving under the influence.
However, we cannot take comfort in this comparison. The surging alcohol consumption among children and youth is a lethal drug that is much more dangerous than hashish. At a young age, the damage to the brain is much graver than it is at a later age.
Drinking hurts school performance, creates social anger and violence, and in the long run hurts the intellect. Intensive drinking at a young age will hurt the liver and the peripheral nervous system, and may prompt serious illness.
Stricter limits needed
Much has been written about the problem, but very little has been done. There is no orderly research on the subject. The data on the problem are old and mostly indirect. No money had been invested.
The PR campaign on the radio is ridiculous. The youths it is aimed at are walking around with earphones, when they are not talking on the cell phone. These teenagers do not listen to the radio and do not read newspapers.
Even before in-depth educational activities are adopted, several simple steps must be undertaken in order to curb alcohol consumption among youths. Just like in other states, alcohol sales should be confined to special stores that will receive a license to do so and face supervision.
The paucity of selling points along with the supervision that would ensure that only adults above 18 will be allowed to purchase alcohol will prevent the unbearable ease with which any child today can get vodka for 30 or 40 shekels at the kiosk.
These children overwhelm their bodies with alcohol, before overwhelming other kids with their blows in drunken brawls.
Yet such limits are insufficient. The education system must introduce classes on the damages of drinking into the curriculum, while schools should monitor the situation.
Meanwhile, the IDF should enforce alcohol regulations within its own ranks. The above steps may not eliminate the problem, but they may prevent us from slipping down further.