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The Unspoken Alcohol Culture Amongst Punjabi Men


For the Punjabi man it is the social norm to drink, and for many it’s usually to excess with different cultural aspects only encouraging this behaviour. But most won’t get help for severe alcohol related problems because of the social stigma or they simply don’t believe they have a problem. To be clear I don’t refer to the majority of men who drink socially, but to those who are down a slippery slope and suffer from serious problems related to alcohol.

Punjabi’s hold much pride and honour in their family name, they don’t want anyone to perceive them as having a problem or being weak. Since drinking is socially acceptable, most don’t even consider binge drinking or alcoholism as a serious problem like drug addiction. According to The Tribune’s article, Alcoholism Among Children Highest in Punjab, Finds Study, more than half of Punjabi men drink alcohol and the state also houses the highest proportion of children consuming psychoactive substances.


Punjabi’s hold much pride and honour in their family name, they don’t want anyone to perceive them as having a problem or being weak.

However this behaviour is something that would be expected from the western culture, and may come as a surprise to some. But for those who are privy to the culture, it comes as no surprise that Punjab is amongst the top three states in India in terms of alcohol consumption, according to a recent government survey. Liquor stores can be found throughout major towns just as easily as a pharmacist or grocer. Whilst the illicit distillation of alcohol in more rural towns is a common practice, despite being excised by the government where possible.


Though it isn’t only an issue directly related to those living in Punjab. According to The BBC’s article, The Unspoken Alcohol Problem Among UK Punjabi’s, in the UK alone there are around 430,000 Sikhs who make up a large proportion of the British Punjabi population. A recent survey commissioned by the BBC, reveals that despite the consumption of alcohol being forbidden in Sikhism, 61% of British Sikhs who were surveyed admitted to drinking alcohol, while 27% of British Sikhs reported having someone with an alcohol problem in their family. The stresses of moving to a new culture, the associated language barriers and the racism they faced meant many of these men turned to alcohol to cope. This reliance on alcohol has since had generational repercussions.


To many, the alcohol is the one thing that is helping them cope with everyday life. Rather than seeing that their addictive behaviour is the underlying cause for their troubles.

Unfortunately this seems to be the unspoken truth amongst many Punjabi men because they’ve been raised in this culture where alcohol is the social norm. As a result many suffer from drinking related problems yet are completely unaware or in denial about the severity of the problem. Problems such as alcoholism, domestic violence, problems in the workplace and social disorder to name just a few. Now this refers to those who drink to excess regularly leading to higher mortality rates, and not those who are simply social drinkers.


The glamourisation of alcohol has only cultivated this culture where it is served in abundance at festivals, weddings and essentially any traditional ceremony/event. If you’ve ever been to a Punjabi Wedding you would be surprised at the free flowing drinks at the bar. Many households will even have a supply in their strongroom readily accessible.


Glamorisation isn’t only to blame, as many simply aren’t aware of the consequences of alcohol, nor the severity. A lack of education only encourages this culture of drinking, with very little avenues for alcohol addicts to seek help, unlike drug addiction which has dedicated treatment centres. This only reinforces the mindset that alcoholism isn’t a serious problem like drug addiction. Many who secretly suffer won’t receive any treatment until it is too late and are admitted to hospital with a chronic health condition.

Despite clear warnings in Sikh scriptures against the use of intoxicants, alcohol abuse is sadly all too evident among many in the Sikh community, which can lead to serious health effects, domestic violence and family breakdown. Guru Nanak’s teachings warns that the consumption of alcohol dims our awareness of our priorities and responsibilities.

If an alcoholic were able to stop drinking on their own accord then alcoholism wouldn't be considered a disease. However it is a progressive disease that only worsens with time.

If anyone has ever experienced a loved one suffer from an alcohol related problem, such as addiction, then you would know just how heart breaking it is to watch them kill themselves slowly, unable to do a thing. Despite your efforts to help and support your loved one, they only harbour anger and hatred towards you as they do not believe they are doing any harm. Even when they become violent or turn to criminal activities they will continue to deny that their drinking is doing any harm.

At the end of the day you need to remember that any addiction such as alcoholism is a disease and that they have no control over this addiction. Which can be extremely challenging when you live with said loved one.


But for many friends and family they don’t know what warning signs to look out for or simply don’t want to believe that a loved one is suffering from serious problems. Because those who do suffer from addiction have become great manipulators.


Unfortunately those with drinking problems are able to rationalise their behaviour despite it seeming completely irrational to everyone else. Albeit their addiction is pulling them into an early grave and causing troubles in their relationships at home, in the workplace and with friends. To many, the alcohol is the one thing that is helping them cope with everyday life. Rather than seeing that their addictive behaviour is the underlying cause for their troubles.


When their life begins to fall apart they will have plenty of excuses for what is happening. Usually the blame falls on everyone else in the addicts life which only puts further strain on relationships. Denial and cognitive dissonance is what keeps many alcoholics trapped in their destructive behaviour till such time as they hit rock bottom or worse yet, end up in an early grave.

For loved ones its difficult to know how to help those suffering and can easily enable their destructive behaviours. Enabling is creating an environment for the addict that makes it easier for them to continue in their ways. Enabling and helping in the context of addiction are two different actions. Helping is doing something for someone who is not capable of doing it themself. Whereas enabling is doing something for someone who should and could be doing for themself. By enabling an alcoholic the focus becomes what 'you did' rather than what 'they did' allowing them to shift the blame onto others.

For many friends and family of addicts and alcoholics, they tend to have a codependent relationship. Codependency arises from wanting to help and support the loved one, yet almost always end up enabling or fostering the addiction.

However it isn't just enabling that allows an alcoholic to continue with their self destructive behaviour, covering up the problem and accepting unacceptable behaviour are two other factors. Alcoholics typically don't want anyone to know the level of their alcohol consumption because if someone were to find out the full extent they would most likely try to help.


If an alcoholic were able to stop drinking on their own accord then alcoholism wouldn't be considered a disease. However it is a progressive disease that only worsens with time. So it is to be expected that an alcoholic may coerce friends or family into never speaking about their problem. Covering up their behaviour only allows them to continue to play the denial game.

Accepting unacceptable behaviour usually begins with a small incident that is brushed off with the excuse that they've had a bit too much or they aren't their usual self. Though with time their behaviour progressively becomes worse and you begin to accept even more unacceptable behaviour. Before you realise it you find yourself in an abusive relationship and you're now the punching bag. Which not only gives them permission to continue, but also deflects from their behaviour allowing them to continue on in complete denial.

For many friends and family of addicts and alcoholics, they tend to have a codependent relationship. Codependency arises from wanting to help and support the loved one, yet almost always end up enabling or fostering the addiction. All the behaviours mentioned thus far are behaviours of a codependent relationship. However it is important for friends and family of alcoholics to put yourself first for your own sanity and health.

Unfortunately the unspoken alcohol culture amongst Punjabi men goes unspoken, with friends and family of those with serious problems normalising their behaviour for fear of social stigma, or simply not knowing what to do. If you or a loved one are suffering from alcohol related problems then rest assured there is help out there. If you have experienced abuse from a loved one due to alcoholism, then it’s important to share your story and educate others. Let’s break the social stigma! Let’s talk about these issues instead of covering them up.


Have you been impacted by a loved one suffering with alcohol related problems?








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