By Grace Q. Bryant
Alcohol addiction was already a massive problem throughout Liberia with almost every community in every county having a major beer parlor or smaller corners where people gather to consume different levels of alcohol.
Unfortunately, the coronavirus has only made the problem worse. Covid-19 swept across the country, sending people into a panic and forcing them into their homes.
The effects of the coronavirus were far more than physical, though high levels of stress often lead people to seek relief through alcohol and other substances and battling the widespread of alcohol addiction amongst young people was difficult enough on its own.
The effects of coronavirus have made the fight even more challenging with alcohol being used as a form of consolation or medication in some parts of Liberia.
“I gave up hope of ever becoming sober. I decided to drink myself to death. It didn’t work. After the outbreak of the coronavirus, I became temporarily sober for periods of few days or so; never lasting more than a week though and I was on it again,” Mr. Phillip Jones, a 27 year old consumer explained.
Mr. Jones claimed that his sober period helped him observed the rate at which the virus was spreading and issues that might helped him fight the virus.
Covid-19 does not only affect people with existing substance abuse problems, the pandemic created a widespread feeling of fear throughout the entire world even affecting the growing numbers of people who were turning to alcohol and drugs for relief on a daily basis.
More people are involved in getting drunk to cope with the stress of the stay-at-home orders and overall uncertainty.
Group gatherings were put on a pause to curb the spread of the coronavirus, yet people were seen gathering secretly indoors to consume alcohol while they found themselves stuck at home as businesses have been diverted from other essential goods to the sale of alcohol.
Those beverages are sole at a minimum prices to the extent that it is affordable for someone who cannot buy a cup of rice and this risky behavior has grave health and social implications that have been ignored or overlooked by many actors and citizens.
Moses Bahn, a young man in his 30s running a small neighborhood beer parlor said he sold more alcohol during the heat of virus in 2020 explaining, “They will just come and sit in the corner and we will close the shop so the police won’t know what was going on inside.”
Moses told this paper that he earned almost US$300 every day and he was glad that his business was booming noting, “You know people were not going anywhere, so some of them will come as early as 10:00 A.M. and will leave right before the curfew.”
Mr. Eric Kolako, a social worker working with young people, agreed that the virus has sparked a huge increase of alcohol addiction stressing, “We know that the effects of covid-19 have seen renewed concerns in many parts of the country and we need to work to address this creeping menace.”
Sadly in Liberia, there are no alcohol addiction treatment centers for people struggling with alcohol while smaller organizations that are providing psychosocial support to people living with addiction are working overtime to provide support to individuals affected by the deadly disease.
Now they need to take extensive precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 amongst their clients as the Government of Liberia has no policy interventions to tackle harmful alcohol consumption and prevent related diseases.
A policy approach including policy for heavy drinkers, regulation on the promotion, a ban on alcohol advertising and pricing policies particularly to target cheap alcohol has the potential to prevent diseases and injuries, increase life expectancy and generate savings that are greater than the implementation costs but this consumer thinks differently.
Mr. Peter Zoduah said alcohol helped him immensely during the lockdown; according to him, alcohol kept him home and saved from friends revealing, “I started drinking alcohol when I was as young as 8 years so I do not care about the virus; therefore virus or no virus, with alcohol I am who I am.”
He added that he feels good when alcohol is in his system and if he doesn’t drink, he feels sick as “I am loyal to alcohol and anywhere I go and see people drinking, I feel happy and that’s the reason I’m still living today,” he expressed.
The problems arising from the epidemic is only starting to show though time will reveal the true extent of covid-19’s impact on addiction in Liberia; until then, Liberians are still having fun and being more addicted to alcohol.
Harmful alcohol consumption damages health, causes diseases and injuries, weakens response to covid-19, and leads to significant economic and societal costs.
For many people in Liberia, alcohol is part of their social life, a life that has been significantly disrupted by COVID19.
The CEO of Eurostar Trading Center on Benson and Gurley Streets intersection indicated that the lack of freedom for customers during covid-19 made the business very slow and said they were not free to sit because of the social distancing protocols which made customers go away from the business.
He termed the protocols as disadvantage to business which led his management into deficit because of the low income brought by customers and the constant high rate situation in the country, his major customers who are petti traders around the district did not want to go distances to buy goods for costs of transportation as well as other extra cost.
“Before the covid, business was fine because of the freedom, there were increase in sales,” he stated. According to him when government announced the outbreak of covid in Liberia, people who bought goods started holding their money.
Alcohol consumption is common after traumatic events as a response to high stress levels. But Harmful alcohol consumption takes a heavy toll on people, the economy and the society.
Preventing alcohol-related diseases and injuries has a triple dividend. First, reducing alcohol use helps individuals cope with infections and develop immunity after vaccination. Second, preventing alcohol use and its associated diseases reduces pressure on health care services – which are already under heavy strain from COVID19. Third, with prevention of harmful alcohol consumption, a healthier and more productive population will better help restart economic activities and social life in the aftermath of the pandemic.
This story was produced with support from Journalists for Human Rights (JHR), through its Mobilizing Media in the Fight Against covid-19 in partnership with FrontPage Africa and the Female Journalists Association of Liberia.
Covid- Pandemic Escalated
Alcoholic Addiction In Liberia
By Grace Q. Bryant