A Shame We Share

A re-issued Statement by the New Zealand Catholic Bishops' Conference on the use and abuse of alcohol.

In April this year at our Low Week meeting, we issued a statement about the use and abuse of alcohol in New Zealand.

Because it often seems to be something of a "Catholic Problem", we entitled the statement "A Shame We Share". The Alcoholic Liquor Advisory Council has arranged a week of New Zealand-wide education and awareness during this month, entitled "Alcohol Alert". This event prompts us to re-issue our statement - up-dated - and to give it a circulation that demonstrates the extent of our concern. The April release went only to news media-who gave it wide coverage, for which we are grateful. But to coincide with Alcohol Alert Week, our comments are to be circulated to every Catholic congregation, to every Catholic secondary school, every priest and every agency of the Church involved with alcohol-induced problems.

We ask that it be given the widest possible distribution.

We, the Catholic Bishops of New Zealand, are alarmed at the increased production and consumption of alcoholic drinks. Excessive drinking, which often leads to alcoholism, now rates as a major public health problem .

The impairment of judgement after taking comparatively small amounts of alcohol makes it a moral issue, and we make no excuse for turning our attention to the question.

The direct result of immoderate drinking can be analysed in economic terms from official figures. These show that the cost in dollars and cents is disastrously high: the Government "take" from taxes being about $400 million a year, while the subsequent costs resulting from misuse are at least $500 million in fiscal terms and devastating in human terms such as family disruptions, premature deaths, violence. Even more important is the fact that over-drinking is a violation of personal dignity. It diminishes our God-given ability to manage our lives responsibly. The effects are especially insidious because they demolish the stability of the family which is the foundation unit of society.

False attitudes to alcohol erode the confidence of young people who find that social acceptance and alcohol have become partners in their social lives. In press and cinema advertising particularly, the social "glamour" of drinking is persuasively presented. The amount of newspaper space devoted to the money-making potential of liquor attests to its profitability, despite the cost of advertising.

Although in recent years, authorities have injected information about alcohol abuse into the education systems through the Departments of Health and Education, and the Alcoholic Liquor Advisory Council, much more needs to be done, and urgently.

In this we do not exclude our own Catholic education systems, nor would we deny that alcohol has, to our shame, often been linked with Catholic occasions or to events with Catholic origins. We, too, have been at fault.

We acknowledge that within our own Catholic community, as within the broader society of which we are part, the need for education about alcohol must be met. Alternative forms of social enjoyment should also be offered.

The almost automatic public acceptance of drinking as a means of having a good time causes us grave concern.

We draw attention especially to the linking of healthy sport with the supply of alcoholic drinks afterwards, often with little regard for age or supervision . The hurt and oppression caused by immoderate drinking, and especially the bitter tensions in marriage and the family, make it imperative for the sickness of true alcoholism to be treated. Everyone should recognise that it is, indeed, a sickness which requires special measures for its arrest.

Very often, especially when young people are under the influence of drink, inhibitions disappear, false confidence ensues, and anti-social behaviour and accidents often follow. These are invariably regretted subsequently.

These are the facts that must become part of the education of every young person, so that from their earliest years New Zealanders know that over-drinking is hazardous to health and dignity. We appeal to parents to assist in this process by setting a good example themselves and openly discussing alcohol-related issues with their children.

We acknowledge with gratitude that many people are willing and able to help. In addition to the social service agencies within our own Church and others, there are specialised agencies offering therapeutic help, even in a society where contrary social expectations and values abound .

But we will never help people to solve their problems while we continue to have a benign attitude towards immoderate drinking. All alcoholic drinks, whether they be amber, brown, red or white, or whether they come in a bottle, flagon, can or cask, contain a powerful drug in various proportions. Those who choose to drink must also learn to respect the drug.

We are creatures of astonishing intricacy, blessed by God with powers which should always be under control of the will.

We hope that all our Catholic people will join those in the community in discussing alcohol-related issues during Alcohol Alert Week from October 18-25; to learn from it and, where necessary, adjust habits and attitudes.

For the sake of your family and yourself, it could be the most important thing you do this year.

Retail expenditure on alcohol in New Zealand is some $1000 million a year.

There is no accurate count of the number of alcoholics, but experts suggest there are at least 57,000 chronic alcoholics and that an average of 10 people (family, friends and working colleagues) are affected in each case. The figure for chronic alcoholics does not include excessive drinkers, estimated to number over 200,000.

It is significant that whereas customs and excise duties from the sale of intoxicating liquor amount to $400 million a year, the cost of the abuse of alcohol in health, economic and penal areas is estimated to be at least $500 million a year.

An immeasurable charge on the community is the cost of the work of thousands of people who become directly and officially involved because of alcohol-related illnesses and accidents. Because of the immoderate drinking among New Zealanders, hundreds -possibly thousands-of others in Government departments and agencies are obliged to provide an "ambulance" service to "pick up the pieces" resulting from the over-use of alcohol.

Officers in the Department of Health, Justice and Social Welfare are required to devote much of their time to the personal and administrative needs of people affected by over-drinking, be they the alcoholics themselves or their families.

Much of the work of the Police, Ministry of Transport and the Accident Compensation is the immediate result of alcohol-related incidents. The hundreds of thousands of working hours used in these duties means that the skills of the officers cannot be used in more productive areas of human effort.

In our economy, rapidly becoming restricted so that more and more people have less and less money for what is known as discretionary spending, the cost of alcohol abuse means that the amount available for more urgent needs is correspondingly limited. In other words, the huge sums necessary to rehabilitate excessive drinkers and alcoholics, provide for their families, alleviate their illness and repair their accidents are a tremendous and growing imposition on the tightening purse-strings of the New Zealand people.

In a sense, alcohol-induced disease and accidents are all theoretically avoidable; if there were no alcohol, there would be no alcohol-related aftermath. That is a simplistic attitude. However, it shows that in the ultimate, the misuse of alcohol is an unnecessary, wasteful drain on the resources of our land.

For example, the sad facts are that 11 percent of all deaths and an excessively high proportion of hospital cases are alcohol-related. In addition, for those who are heavy or addictive drinkers, the effects of damage to the liver and brain are irreversible.

Not only death, but horrific bodily damage in road accidents is often attributed to the excessive consumption of alcohol.