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A Tale of Two Reactions

This week, Chiang Mai Governor Charoenrit Sanguansat issued an order that will prevent the sale of alcohol for 10 days, from April 10th to April 20th, and perhaps beyond. The reasoning for this decision is of course related to the ongoing spread of COVID-19. The idea is to introduce measures that will prevent social gatherings, and thus attempt to curtail any growth of the virus.

I think, perhaps, this comes with special consideration for the upcoming Songkran holiday. It is understandable local government officials may see a recipe for disaster in a local population with a desire to let off steam, especially in a time of uneasiness. Removing the availability of alcohol, that famous social lubricant, seems a logical step in aiming to dissuade revelers from partaking in their usual festivities. It is worth noting, too, the ban of alcohol sales will reduce the number of alcohol-related patients being admitted into Chiang Mai hospitals. Healthcare systems around the world are desperately trying to streamline their services to ensure the best possible care for their patients. Reducing the number of ‘unnecessary’ patients is one way to do this. As a consequence, the alcohol ban may afford the Chiang Mai health system and frontline workers some relief at this difficult time.

Whatever the reasoning behind the order, and whether it will be effective in its aims, we are left with a stark choice as to how to react. This is summed up by the reactions of my partner and I. On hearing the news, my partner immediately stated, with a look of near-panic on her face, we must go out and stock up on alcohol to help us ‘get through’. She is by no means an alcoholic; she has just been enjoying our nightly Netflix and wine combination. I, on the other hand, thought this would effectively undermine any aim of the ban, and we had a social responsibility to adhere, as best as we could, to the order. This, in truth, was a touch grandiose, and my grand moral stance was in fact built upon another reason: I felt, during quarantine, I had already indulged too much, alcohol had become a daily fixture in my routine, and perhaps a government-assigned detox may not be an entirely bad idea.

This situation raises an interesting dilemma and can perhaps force us to question the role alcohol plays in our lives. On the one hand, having a drink at the end of the day has been an incredibly useful tool to help me towards unwinding and releasing the stress of the day. The notion of a ‘coping mechanism’ can have negative connotations, yet the therapeutic qualities are undeniable and can be justified on occasion. It is clear from even the most cursory glances across social media many people feel exactly the same way, joking casually that extended quarantine essentially equates to earlier and earlier trips to the fridge. On the other hand, surely this behavior should be treated more seriously. Notwithstanding the well-known health consequences of drinking alcohol on a regular basis, there are a number of issues raised. Is there a question of mental health deterioration related to this extended routine? At what point does a playful attitude, vindicating our actions as a response to coronavirus, develop into a dependence? Surely there are more appropriate coping mechanisms that could lead to a greater sense of wellness at this difficult time.

I’m not sure where to land on the issue. Homer Simpson, as head of the quintessential American family, stated of alcohol, “It is the cause of, and the solution to, all of life’s problems”. At a time where large quantities of the population are drinking even more, I feel the quote is strangely poignant and deserves some thought!