Understanding the needs of the Punjabi Community to address problems with alcohol.
The association of alcohol with Punjabi culture is one that is widely internalized whether it is through media and movies or in our everyday celebration culture. Many interactions within Punjabi families and friends often involve the consumption of alcohol. Sometimes this is an unspoken cultural norm that slips through the cracks, yet many families face the ramifications of problem drinking in their everyday lives.
Recently, under the supervision of a Physician focused on south Asian addictions, a medical student from UBC conducted an online survey of the Punjabi community asking questions such as “do you know someone with a drinking problem?”, “did you try and find help for this problem?” and “what was your biggest barriers to finding help?”. We found that 45% of people who knew someone with a drinking problem, did not try to find help. The three biggest reasons for this were: the person affected struggled to acknowledge their problem with drinking, people were worried about other’s opinions if they knew their family member struggled with alcohol use and thirdly, there was a lack of culturally appropriate resources for Punjabi families to access. Learn more about the study here.
One of the main issues identified in the Punjabi community was an inability to acknowledge when drinking habits have turned into an alcohol use disorder, which previously people would have called “alcoholism”. Since drinking habits are part of social interactions in Punjabi culture, it can be hard for someone to realize when alcohol consumption has exceeded normal drinking habits. In the medical world, there is “the 4 C’s” mnemonic that can help identify this issue: a Craving to drink which pushes you to seek out alcohol, a Compulsion that creates an irresistible urge to drink, a loss of Control over how much you drink at once and drinking despite negative Consequences to your life (i.e. financial, family or personal issues). Another indicator that your body has developed a dependence to alcohol is if you experience symptoms such as shaking, sweating, nausea, vomiting, insomnia or anxiety when you stop drinking. These are examples of withdrawal. Withdrawal from alcohol can be life threatening, as it can result in seizures or a more serious condition called delirium tremens which directly affects the brain. It is important to seek a medical assessment in those times.
The next step after recognizing there is a problem, is reaching out for help. It is important to understand that addiction is not a choice. It is a complex health problem, that like with any other disease, can be treated and managed with medication, therapy, and community support. The barrier in the Punjabi community is that we do not know what type of help is available. Beyond that, it is difficult to find help that is in Punjabi. Research shows that when a doctor or provider has the same background and language of the patient, they are better able to help. Recently, we have launched www.asranow.ca a bilingual website in English and Punjabi that helps Punjabi families find resources and information about problem drinking. The site highlights all of the resources in Surrey, Vancouver and Abbotsford (and expanding in the future) that can support our community with alcohol use disorder. Examples of these resources include Punjabi speaking counsellors, groups, medical centres and rehabilitation centres. It can be found on Instagram, Facebook and directly through the internet by searching “asranow”. We hope this provides a first step to addressing this need in our community.
Ultimately, problem drinking is due to a multitude of factors in our community, and often we are isolated. People sometimes feel overwhelmed by guilt, uncertainty, fear, self-loathing, or the symptoms of the disease itself. If we can start having more conversations in our community, then we can break down stigma to reach out and get help (as a family member or as the person affected). This way we can realize this is a disease that can be treated, just like so many others, if we bring together mind, body, spirit and work to support families and individuals.