NOW THE WEST BRINGS DRUG AND ALCOHOL ABUSE TO ASIA
John A Halford, John Curry & Pedro Melendez Jr
ALCOHOL has always been a traditional part of Asian society. Yet in most Asian countries alcoholism has not reached the epidemic proportions seen in the West. Why? Southeast Asians, and especially the Chinese, drink copiously, yet addiction to alcohol seems to be uncommon. There is a reason. Most drinking is done at mealtimes, and heavy drinking is associated with banquets, weddings and other celebrations. But alcohol does not play a large part in everyday life. The concept of the Western cocktail hour of having some friends over for a few drinks is not traditional Asian hospitality. So Asian people did not, in general, develop a dependence on alcohol, as a cure-all for loneliness, depression, stress and grief.
The Lesson of Japan
That is not to say that they can't! Post-war Japan has shown that. A recent survey showed that three million Japanese — 6 percent of the adult population — can now be classified as alcoholics and problem drinkers. That is a four-fold increase since the end of World War II. And tragically, one fifth of Japanese high school students admit to needing a drink just to keep going. Many Japanese see this as further evidence of the tragic results of abandoning traditional culture for the more liberal Western way of life. There is significant truth in this. It can be clearly seen when we look at the state of the drug problem today in Asian countries. Drugs and drug addiction are nothing new to Southeast Asia. In the past governments remained tolerant and ambivalent. If the problem were considered at all, it was considered in relation to use rather than abuse. Opiates, usually in the unrefined state, were used by the peasant population as medicine, as an aid for medication and — mixed with tobacco — for pleasure. But look what has happened since the hippie culture added Western sophistication to the traditional Asian pattern. Take, for example, Nepal. In Nepal, until recently, no restriction existed on buying, selling or consuming cannabis. It was simply one of the facts of Nepalese life. Then in the 1960s came an influx of hippie culture from Europe and North America. Nonconformist Western youths made a pilgrimage to this mountain kingdom, seeking a Shangri-la to live out their befuddled fantasies. Young Nepalese began to pattern their lives after this degenerate example — and suddenly Nepal had a real drug problem! Today, the buying and selling of cannabis is legally restricted by the government. Other Asian governments take even firmer action. Singapore's leaders are determined that Western counterculture does not infect their youth. They go to great lengths to keep it at bay. Longhaired visitors have been surprised to find that they have been asked to get a haircut before being allowed to enter the country. Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew has made it quite clear that there is no room in Singapore society for those who effect the clothes and life-style of the drug culture. The government has been known to expel the entire families of foreign businessmen if their children are caught smoking marijuana. Other governments in the area take an equally firm line. It is quite common to see signs at Asian airports informing long-haired and scruffily dressed tourists that they are not welcome. In Malaysia, the Philippines, Burma and Thailand long jail sentences and sometimes execution await anyone caught trafficking in drugs. Yet problems persist despite government efforts. In the Philippines, for example, marijuana poses a growing problem. It now accounts for more than 60 percent of drug abuse cases. Unlike other countries where people stick mostly to one drug, the problem in the Philippines has become one of poly-drug abuse. Marijuana is often used in conjunction with legal cough preparations, tranquilizers and alcohol, creating often dangerous, combined effects. The erosion of traditionally strong family ties, as well as growing peer-group pressure, is being cited as a major reason for the mounting problem among the youth. The government is now redoubling its efforts to eradicate the menace. Some in the West have been critical of what they consider to be severity and harshness in these societies where drugs have been part of the way of life for centuries. But the Asian governments have seen that there is a great difference between the traditional use of homegrown narcotics by the old and the sick, and the ever increasing dependence upon hard drugs by the youth, on whom a nation's future depends. They have seen the correlation between drug abuse by the young, and an increasing lack of purpose in life. Whether they can succeed in stemming the tide of Western influence in the media and through commerce, remains to be seen. For drug and alcohol abuse is on the increase in this part of the world, as it is nearly everywhere else. Australia, bordering as it does on Asia, is an example of the problem of alcohol abuse. Though the use of illegal drugs is increasing somewhat, by far the greatest continuing problem in that country is alcohol abuse. More than a quarter of a million Australians are alcoholics and 1.2 million (out a population of 14 million) are personally affected in some way by alcohol abuse (family members, for example). One in every five hospital beds is occupied by a person suffering the adverse effects of alcohol. A report by the Australian Senate has termed the growing problem "a potential national disaster." Yet, because of a tradition of heavy drinking, most Australians do not recognize alcohol as being a problem. One notable success story, by contrast, is the People's Republic of China. Until 1949, China had the world's worst narcotic abuse problem — the sad story of the opium trade that was financed and abetted by Western commercial interests has been well documented. By the 1920s, 25 percent of China's vast population used opium. In 1950 Chinese Premier Chou En Lai signed an order prohibiting the drug. Within a few years the opium trade was eliminated, and today the problem to all intents and purposes does not exist. It is interesting to notice to what the Chinese ascribe their success. They are firm believers in the fact that a problem such as drug addiction cannot be simply suppressed — it must be replaced with something. The Chinese did not only forcibly prohibit the cultivation, manufacture and sale of opium, they infused their people — particularly the young — with a sense of national purpose. By changing the purpose and direction of the life of their young people, the Chinese effectively cut off the supply of new addicts!
Needed — A Goal Higher than Self
There is a lesson here. Whether or not one agrees with the Chinese ideology, it cannot be denied that the Revolution replaced chronic drug addiction with a pride in the nation and a renewed purpose. All over the world we see that drug and alcohol use among the young is a symptom of frustration, disorientation and a lack of true purpose in life. Prosperity and a better standard of living are not the answer — for the problem seems to increase with what the Asians call Westernization. Yet neither are prosperity and a good standard of living of themselves the cause of alcohol and drug abuse. What the whole world needs is a renewal of purpose in goals higher than the self. Not until the selfishness of the Me generation is, wiped out will the problems of drug and alcohol abuse cease. But where are young people to find as their highest goal the true purpose of life? Certainly not in today's politics or in this world's divided religions. But it can be found — and you can read it in a free copy of our booklet Why Were You Born?.