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12 December 2014

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Busa is pointing to a pernicious problem in PNG, but one that bedevils virtually all countries to varying degrees.

We tend not to see alcohol as a drug of dependence, but that it what it is for a significant minority of people.

In Australia, about 5% of the population are alcoholics, with around a similar percentage being "problem drinkers" who, typically, go on weekend binges to the type so eloquently described by Busa.

About 20% of hospital admissions in this country are directly or indirectly attributable to alcohol abuse, with another 20% attributable to tobacco use.

In PNG, the colonial administration for a long time prohibited Papua New Guineans from consuming alcohol, mostly in an attempt to protect them from the social evils that always accompany drinking.

This was seen by PNG nationalists as being discriminatory, which it undoubtedly was, and they demanded that their "human right" to choose to drink alcohol be respected. So, the law changed and here we are, 45 years later, with alcohol a huge social problem.

History suggests that there is no going back: prohibition has been tried and it failed utterly. In the USA prohibition ushered in the era of huge and wealthy corporate crime syndicates, with overall alcohol consumptions rising as well.

There are some strategies to reduce the harms associated with alcohol, but it needs a concerted government and community effort to achieve acceptable levels of control.

Heavy taxation to force up the price of alcohol will help, but cannot be pushed too far before enterprising criminals will start producing what the Americans call "hooch" or "moonshine" using illegal stills.

Community education and programs like Alcoholics Anonymous can help in some cases.

However, whatever is done, experience shows that, for an irreducible minority, the harms will continue unabated.

Freedom brings with it the right to make many different life choices: sadly, not everyone can or will make good choices.

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