Role of faith leaders in addressing alcoholism

World Health Organisation reports in 2018 shows that the harmful use of alcohol has caused  3 million deaths every year worldwide.

Harmful use of alcohol also contribute to fatal road traffic crashes and impact to significant losses to social and economic to individuals, families and societies at large.

It is appalling to note that in 2019, Malaysia had the third highest fatality rate from road traffic accidents in Asia and ASEAN, behind Thailand and Vietnam. Based on data provided by the United Nations (UN) Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), drunk driving accounted for approximately 25% of fatalities on Malaysian roads as of 2018.

Road accident is one of the most common alcohol-related harm that affect the livelihood of the victim and their family. This month alone (may 2020) Malaysians have been shocked by two separate fatal accidents caused by drunk drivers, one resulted in the death of a police officer and another of a driver who was killed by a vehicle driven by a drunk driver against incoming traffic. Similar past incidents shows that the drunk driver is unfettered, paid their fine and may serve some jail time, while the family of the victim suffer traumatic loss of the breadwinner, and children are left orphan.

The current penalty for driving under influences (DUI) under the Road Transport Act 1987 is jail sentence of up to 10 years and a fine of up to RM20,000. Under the PH government the proposed 20-year jail term and RM100,000 fine for DUI offenses still do not reflect the gravity of the offence. The new PN government is currently conducting a survey on the consumption of alcohol and a stricter enforcement of law for drunk driving offences.

Drunk driving is unacceptable in any parts of the world, more so that Malaysia has over 61% Muslims population. There are grave concern on the impact of fatal drunk driving incidents in causing distress and trauma on victims and families especially when the penalty to the offender appears meager and not compensating the family of the deceased. The penalty over the years have not been a deterrent factor based on recurring fatal drunk driving incidents. How can we put an end to the death toll caused by drunk drivers? Several approach includes stiffer penalties on offenders, compensation for the victim and family, greater enforcement on DUI suspects during off peak hours, limit access and availability as well as venue for consumption, as similarly enforced in many countries including Singapore, Australia and New Zealand.

In addition, various parties can play their role in addressing this issue. In particular, faith leaders can do their part via outreach in creating awareness and increasing conscience on the impact of alcoholism towards family and society. While alcoholic intake is forbidden in Islam, other religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism or Christianity have varied views on alcohol intake but a common view on the prohibition of intoxication. People who resort to alcoholism even by social drinkers, indicates underlying issues relate to social anxiety, depression, addiction and other lack of good spiritual health. Support from religious bodies, as well as support groups can save lives.

Dr. Nor Azian Ab Rahman
Head of Public Communication
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