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Indians and Alcohol: Maybe The Drinking Problem Is Lack Of Education?

Recently the Deccan Chronicle reported on the drinking problem of Malayalis, using a headline grabbing statistic that just under 1/3 of the people consume alcohol there in order to try and inspire clicks across their social media channels. The article came in true Indian style with a funny over-the-top illustration and seemed to be more in line with a moral-police piece than a hard hitting expose on the topic. At first I saved a screen capture of this solely because of the ridiculous illustration that a serious newspaper used to promote it’s article but then I started thinking … a bit about the headline, a bit about the message in general and a whole lot about how alcohol is consumed and viewed here in India.

The idea that 1/3 of a certain group of people are drinking alcohol is shocking to some Indians but honestly I cant’ get my head around it. As most of you know, I was living almost 10 years in Barcelona, Spain before moving to India in 2011. There everyone drinks. And when I say everyone, I don’t mean it facetiously, I literally mean everyone I knew in my life. Everyone. The country is one of the top leading exporters of wine in the world and wine is in everyone’s blood. Children start drinking wine diluted with sprite or 7up from as early as their early teens. The legal drinking age for kids is 18 but most start going out to clubs and bars at around 16. Around the lunch and dinner tables everyone generally has a glass of wine or some beer. I literally don’t know a single person from my old life who didn’t consume alcohol. Nor did I have a single friend who was an alcoholic, nor was anyone I personally knew in my day to day life (although there were a couple of “town drunks” but every town in any country all around the world have those). Honestly, I didn’t personally know a single drunk. None. Even my daughter never felt compelled at 16 to binge or go crazy with alcohol because it wasn’t forbidden given that I offered it to her from her early teens so she wasn’t curiose about it. She was responsible in a way that some Indians aren’t at times.

angela-bangalore-blog-indians-alcohol-problem-not-drunks-lack-of-education-mWell tonight when I ran across this screen grab from Facebook, what had really bothered me about it clicked for me and a light bulb went off in my little blonde head.

Here in India, the reality of the situation is the opposite to Spain. Drinking is frowned upon – not expected as a part of everyday life. People who consume alcohol are judged by others, not viewed as “normal people” by everyone like in my old life. Some Indians seem to binge and abuse it constantly, instead of just sipping alcohol post dinner to take the edge off the day. Why is this? In my opinion it is partly because there is no culture for consuming alcohol so lots of Indians drink it wrong, plain and simple. Kids and adults alike often drink too much, too fast, and it results in a whole lot of messiness. Except for spring break in Mexico or crazy weekends down in Tijuana when I was 18 I have never seen so many girls and guys carried out of clubs – NICE club at 5 star hotels – like I have here in India. In Spain, people are out from midnight to 6am drinking non-stop and I can count on one hand the amount of people I had seen carried out in a year – because people were taught to pace themselves and not get drunk. But in Bangalore seeing friends carry out a mate is a nightly occurrence a couple times over.

Now my Mom is not going to love this but for me part of the reason for all this is simple. My Mom was really strict with me when I was growing up as a teenager and she basically forbid most everything … making EVERYTHING she told me I couldn’t or shouldn’t do desirable and exciting. This essentially sealed the deal and ensured I wanted to taste all that forbidden fruit she said I couldn’t have. And since my Mom didn’t want me to, well that made the fruit all the more sweet.

Maybe alcohol in India is just that. Forbidden fruit. Here in India, only the upper-class or jet-set seem free to drink without too much backlash, the rest of society has a seemingly preconceived notion about booze and how they will judge people who sip it – and definitely those who abuse it.

But what if, just maybe, it wasn’t such a naughty thing. And it wasn’t forbidden fruit. I mean come on, smoking kills more than alcohol and that is legal and soooo many people smoke here. Couldn’t alcohol become a normal part of life so that people could just enjoy a sip here and there without getting sloshed, abuse it and … well, drink it wrong? What if there was some education about alcohol instead of pretending it will go away eventually and then judging people for drinking it? Because I’ve gotta say, as an outsider looking in, the current system is not working. Obviously change won’t happen overnight and it will take a generation or two but … starting on a new path seems better than the current forbidden fruit / judgement system in place.

Hell, maybe that would even help to drop wine prices in India! In Spain, an AMAZINGLY yummy bottle of Rioja wine can easily be procured for Rs. 350 but here you have to pay twice that for “just okay” local wine. The insanely high prices keep wine out of reach for most people and ensure that the little briks of brandy are the only thing economical enough for people who might enjoy a drink. Not a fun option compared to Champagne and wine let me tell you…

XOXO Angela

© 2013 Angela Carson. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce any part of this article without the author’s permission.

Angela Carson

At 21 I left uni, jumped into my Jeep Wrangler, and drove from my native California to live an adventure in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I've explored 37 countries on 4 continents, residing in 8 of them (currently Indonesia's Riau Islands is my home). I even have a private pilot's license and was shot at once by bandits!

This Post Has 31 Comments

  1. Karthickeyan

    Not a single alcoholic in Spain? Wow, how about a little reality in writing. Your contention that somehow spaniards or westerners handle their alcohol better is ridiculous at best.

    1. AngelaCarson

      Hmmmm… maybe I should make that more clear.  I mean that I don’t personally know one as in none of my friends or my ex’s family, etc… no one in “my life” and we all drank almost every day.  Will edit that 🙂  Thanks for pointing it out.  –Angela

      1. Karthickeyan

        An edit would be great! It would be like me saying divorce is non existent in the USA simply because I dont know anyone in my family, or my wife’s(white girl, btw), or friends(extended) who is divorced. We know that is not the reality in the general population.

  2. Ritu

    hahahahaha that made me laugh ! exactly what i told my mom while my sister landed her 16. i am glad you blogged it 🙂

  3. Ritu

    oh!! BTW I did buy some nice Bella Rouge for 350 INR at the wine store in Gopalan mall (thank God its in a mall so make all those glares from men less obvious or oblivious)!

    And I dont mind you saying that there are no alcoholics in Spain because we are not really talking of Spain here – are we – I thought the point of conversation is India

    1. AngelaCarson

      Thanks for commenting, glad the forbidden fruit part made you giggle. Sooooo true, isn’t it? If a parent says something is naughty, all we want to do is … THAT! That’s what makes “bad boys” so bad too! hehe You know, my trick at the wine shop is just DO NOT look at anyone else. I walk in with a reusable linen carrier bag and shop shop shop 🙂 So silly that anyone should care anyway! Have a great weekend! -angela

  4. Ashwin Shanker

    One thing about drinking in India which amuses me is that women aren’t allowed to drink…. In south-indian households, It’s acceptable for men to drink, but the forbidden fruit factor is more relevant to the women here.

    I feel that women would be a more responsible drinker compared to men and wouldn’t abuse it as much as men do.

    And the reason why people shun it is because people get into abusive behavior and say/do what they feel like once their inhibitions are ‘under’ the influence. People drink for the wrong reasons here…. :/

    1. AngelaCarson

      Yeah, what’s up with that?  I do find the stigma that’s placed on women here crazy … we run companies and win gold medals and fly planes… but somehow can’t have the same fun as men 🙁    BUT with respect to drinking for the wrong reasons, I do that quite a lot too whenever I’m upset.  That one I think is pretty universal.  Alcohol drowns sorrows 🙂  Not the best solution to a problem in one’s life but it’s a band-aid in times of need I guess. Thanks for adding to the conversation 🙂  Cheers on Easter Sunday to you – Angela

      1. Vroon

        Ashwin & Angela,

        The supposed taboo (i say supposed because no one has the right to tell a woman/ man what to do or what not to do) of women drinking probably changes from place to place. Might be seen as a weird thing in the conservative South near Chennai and Trivendrum, tolerated in the punjabi north. But here in Pune, our local Irish is full of groups of girls catching up on a friday night after work. As such, no doubt women are more responsible drinker!


  5. Kumar

    One small factor is “forbidden fruit” to start with the habit of drinking. In Spain, people drink alcohol (not bear and wine, you can other higher percentage alcohol) after food. So they enjoy drinking and they enjoy whole night. The rest like bear or wine as more social drinks during lunch and dinner times.

    Another major factor for the alcoholic situation in India is that the basic reason why people started drinking alcohol. People wants to feel the effect of alcohol. They want to feel drunk. so they drink fast and empty stomach(with snacks) and later everything mess.

    You are right, there is no culture of drinking in India, and people drink too much too fast. Considering the fact that why one needs/drinks alcohol, and given fact that how a beer tastes for a first timer, why to expect alcohol as part of social drinks?? There are many healthy and other drinks which can be social drinks?? I don’t think one needs education how to drink alcohol. Education is already there about the alcohol. Alcohol is alcohol. But the messing up people learn by experience as you said by generations to enjoy the effect of alcohol for long without messing up!!

    1. AngelaCarson

      You are right, and everyone around the world loves the affects of alchol but I suppose the “making an evening of it” thing does help so that people pace themselves.  Compared to here in Bangalore where the bars are shut by 11:15 so everyone has to pack a night full of fun into 2 hours or so 🙁  Thanks for commenting, added nicely to the conversation -A

  6. Vroon

    So, a friday or a saturday night in London or Manchester is pretty civilized is it?

    1. AngelaCarson

      Ohhhhhh no idea really, I was specifically comparing Sitges / Barcelona and my experience here in Bangalore.  You’d have to write about that comparison 🙂   -angela

      1. Vroon

        Its pretty bad. Lots of brawls in bars/pubs, people passed out drunk on pavements.

        On a better note, Just came back from Barcelona – 4 days of Sangria, Sangria and oh wait..more sangria and crappy tapas! What a wonderful and delightful city. Awesome blog by the way !


        1. monica

          Yeah I think us aussies inherited the trashy british drinking culture…. continental europe on the other hand is much more sophisticated, it’s part of their heritage

  7. Vivek

    Drinking is not the only thing which is frowned upon or judged here. A lot of other fun stuff like takings a road trip to Goa, having a boyfriend/girlfriend. And, people doesn’t accept the fact as it can be seen in comments above. Hope this condition improves and people become open minded to such things.

    Great post by the way!

    1. AngelaCarson

      It’s true, many things are forbidden fruit in India 😉  Thanks for the kind words and comment -ange

  8. sunith

    You are right, most of us can’t really handle our drinks and its annoying to see a friend make an ass of himself/herself when you are trying to have a good time 😀 Perhaps some online tutorials on the basics of alcohol intake is necessary to educate the uninitiated and save everyone else the trouble of cleaning up after em.

    1. AngelaCarson

      Hey Sunith, it has been ages!  Was thinking of you actually – need to have a photo taken 🙂 

      So you should start a webinar series or e-learning on alcohol and partying it seems!!!  –angela

      1. sunith

        Haha, I am the worst person to start a program on alcohol… I have Malayali blood in moi veins 😀 and ya its been ages! almost a year I guess….

  9. 5w_haul

    you are comparing European and Indian alcohol drinking habits but booze culture of Anglosphere is very much comparable to indian one

  10. Margarita

    Very well written, Angela! Yes, all the points you made are very valid. I have witnessed it with my own eyes in India. Most notably so is the taboo that is placed on women drinking. I am not even Indian, but because I was in India drinking with Indian men, I was looked down upon. One major incident occurred Coorg County Resort. I went there with all my colleagues, including another American women. We were drinking drinking and dancing around a fire. All the women were on one side (these were also my friends) and men (plus me and my American colleague) on another. None of the women were talking to us. They ignored us the whole night. They had been our friends/colleagues for months, but suddenly we were treated like the plague. It was very sad and hurt my feelings very much.

    I can also relate to the forbidden fruit and know of other teens that didn’t drink in excess because their parents allowed it. I, on the other hand, grew up with alcoholic parents and despite seeing them drunk all the time, was told how very bad it was! I didn’t overuse alcohol mostly because of their actions, but I did experiment with drugs, mostly pot. The more my parents said no, the more I wanted it. I do feel it is a lot like you described in India, and I can understand those Indians getting defensive about what you have pointed out. Imho, it’s because people don’t like outsiders pointing out the obvious, even if it hits you in the face night after night.

    I talked to my husband about this topic. He is from a small village in Andhra Pradesh. There are a few alcoholics in his village. He says the problem with the drinking is most of the guys don’t have the money to feed their family and they are totally careless with their responsibilities. They go out to get drunk and the family is left at home without food. For this reason, everyone in the village looks down on them and their actions. I can understand this, but I feel that it is the same thing we see day in and day out. A few rotten apples ruining it for the rest of the lot. I do hope things can change in India, but will not hold my breath. As a side note, I will continue to partake in drinking when I am there and will continue to receive the evil glares from onlookers… AND I will not let it bother me a bit!

  11. Maneesh

    Deccan Chronicle can hardly be called a serious newspaper.It’s worse than the Times of India.

  12. R S

    India has had its own tradition of the Nectar of Spirit, a series of situations in the past 1200 or 1300 years, depending upon whose version of history ought to be trusted, have ruined the culture of hooch in the subcontinent. From the extremes you come across in Pakistan, to south India or the Hindi heartland, where men may, however women may not, consume alcohol. While I agree that education on drinking, or even acquiring an etiquette, is light years distant from India, I believe that alcohol consumption actually evolved in regions with cooler climes, where it grew into something normal. Probably that’s a reason why it has not caught up, as far as India is concerned. And please, don’t compare me with General Ayub Khan, I haven’t even talked about democracy. 😉
    I absolutely love my single malts from Islay and from the Highland ones too!

    1. AngelaCarson

      The culture of hooch!  Love it!  -ange

  13. Bunty

    Nice post…. i love drinking….felt like sharing my experience…. i’m not a regular drinker but drink socially.
    The best part of it is the Buzz it gives and the mood it generates, But whenever i go home after boozing all family members, including my wife, looks at me as if i have committed some serious crime.. And discuss about it with them as what is the problem with drinking.. The obvious answers are, culture, society, what people will think, its against God,.etc.. My wife says that if i continue drinking, a day will come when myself will come home drunk daily and fell in some tunnel on the road.. crazy.. i’m fed up convincing all… But this doesn’t discourage me from drinking.. cheers..

  14. G. Pandrang Row

    Angela, alcoholism is genetic. There are Spanish alcoholics just as there are alcoholics in every culture. It’s the binge drinkers and the guys who drink too much who seem to really dominate in India. It’s sad that we’ve not really learnt how to drink sensibly. I had a father who at 77 still has between two and three drinks every evening. He used to drink a lot more when I was younger and that’s possibly what has put me off. I drink maybe one bottle of beer every six months, but that doesn’t mean I object to people drinking around me – my only objection is to the way people drink. I sometimes wish we could get into the habit of eating before we drink, instead of getting drunk and then stuffing ourselves. It’s very Victorian I guess.

  15. Ninu Nair

    i guess it isn’t about the forbidden thing that drives Indian people crazy for alcohol..all mythological scriptures have long narratives on Gods, Kings and commoners addicted to ‘madira’. The problem lies in creation of a false sense of cultural purity that puts alcoholism, extra marital affairs, disrespect to women under a curtain. I have seen foreigners drink day in and day out, without getting into that embarrassing drunken state, it is more to do with the physical control on one’s well being. In India, it is somehow expected to play the drunkard if one is too happy or too sad, heartbreak to job loss to marriage..any given event is a good excuse. Lets us address the real problem, alcoholism or eve teasing is looked down upon in round table discussions and not in real Indian lives.

  16. monica

    In Australia we have a big underage drinking problem where kids drink in the park because they have no where else to go… The groups of 10+ male Indian tourists in Goa remind me of those teenagers – loud, obnoxious and ‘bad ass’. I think a certain class of Indian men lack access to parties, so they get a little bit too excited when the opportunity finally comes. I don’t think you can really educate people about this, more a matter of them learning how to handle yourself through experience (which you pointed out is very limited)

    But Angela if you think Bangalore is bad, try going to Diu around NYE!! Neighbouring Gujarat is a dry state, so all these retards flock there to get hammered. Almost every restaurant at lunch time is packed with boozy, leery men.

  17. Ajan (@The_Ajan)

    It has been a while since I visited your blog. What you’re experiencing in India, I’m experiencing an altogether different culture here in UK.

    I have a Club, 3 Bars and a Chapel all in one place, inside the University campus here. Its literally horrifying, I was taught that a School or a University is a “Temple of Learning”. In India, you don’t see a liquor store for a certain fixed radius around the School/Campus/Temple/Chapel/Mosque/Gurudwara.

    I don’t know where to begin about the general assumptions of the tourists in India regarding the “Drinking Problem”.
    Ages before branded alcohols were distributed in a commercialised way in India, there used to be something called as ‘Sara’ (in Telugu) or ‘Desi Daaru’ (Hindi) or ‘Local Liquor’ and to use a posh word, ‘Local Ale’. These were usually consumed by the lower-income people in shady places, and made on cooking pots and usually in forests (places where you get “herbs”). BUT, there are/were people who drink a healthier drink called ‘Kallu’ (in Telugu) or ‘Palm Toddy’ (English). There were certain rules about drinking Toddy, usually the timings (before sunrise). The ‘Local Ale’ which sounds so innocent is not so innocent in the view of the Indian populous, it has claimed multiple lives and still does. We still see them in small articles across various newspapers where people who don’t have enough money to buy liquor, purchase a ‘local ale’ made in not so healthy places and they die. The same incidents are shown in movies as well.
    Its frowned upon since its something about ‘Classes’, elders in the family usually say, “Why do you want to drink such stuff and spoil your organs?”. Wine is usually consumed in other countries, and in India you have ‘Ayurvedic Water/Juice’ which is good for the health/digestion etc. Many many families still have Basil Water (water with basil leaves) after having food. You might’ve observed this in Temples, they usually use Basil Water or Coconut Water as a Theertham (Holy Drink, like how Wine is used in Churches).
    Coming back to the misunderstanding of Alcohol Consumption in India, I’d like to blame the movies, media and of course the parents to a certain extent. Page 3 is focussed on parties (Parties in the present sense means, alcohol), movies show people drinking as the most entertaining/classy thing. But, I guess people have to learn how to drink on their own.

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