By Ogova Ondego
Published January 18, 2017
Kenya came close to declaring the production and sale of illicit liquor as a national disaster that called for a State of Emergency measures to control it in July 2015.
At the end of December 2016 South Africa was considering some tough measures to tackle drink-driving, placing driving under the influence of alcohol in the same bracket with the most serious crimes in the southern African country—murderer and rape.
But did you know that alcohol-drinking among women should receive much more media attention around the world than it currently does?
Oh, you don’t agree? Perhaps Kenyan Lilian Adhiambo’s plight will cast more light on the issue and help you change your mind.
Alright. First things first; who is Lilian Adhiambo?
Adhiambo is a woman who was brought up in a family that taught her that taking alcohol was wrong and she wholly believed this until she joined moved away from home in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, to join a university some 480 kilometres away in the western part of the country. She was 19 and full of ambition. She had even bought some sun bed equipment for sale to start a business while in university to cater for her needs.
During a friend’s birthday party, Adhiambo tasted scotch for the first time. The next morning, she says, she did not remember much about the party but that she had started her adventure with alcohol. Although actively involved in the Christian Union, she says she bought whiskey and imbibed it secretly at night. No one – not even her three roommates – discovered Adhiambo’s secret.
After marriage, she miscarried five times in a row and forced her husband to seek specialised medical attention for her. The man could hardly believe the doctor told when she told him that his wife’s blood contained large quantities of alcohol and that this was the cause of miscarriages. Cornered and desperate for a child, Adhiambo confessed to drinking secretly. Her alcohol-induced fun, glamour and adventure had turned into a nightmare.
Medical specialists say that women metabolise alcohol differently from men; that women’s bodies are a little more efficient at processing alcohol than those of men.
A United States of America psychologist, Nancy White-O’Brien, tells The Plain Truth magazine that the same amount of alcohol becomes more concentrated in a woman’s body than in a man’s. A man takes a drink and a certain amount of it is not absorbed into the bloodstream, so his blood alcohol doesn’t go as high as that of a woman. Because of the higher absorption rate of alcohol, women’s livers become diseased much more quickly than men’s.
But perhaps the greatest danger is posed to a pregnant woman. When such a woman drinks, the alcohol goes directly to the foetus and it is as though it were drinking alcohol, wine, or mixed drink right with its mother. The amount of damage done to the foetus, experts on foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) argue, depends on how much and how often the expectant mother drinks. Some of the defects associated with FAS are low birth weight, damaged heart and kidneys, flattened faces, small hands and crossed or squinty eyes.
Children born of women who drink while pregnant may have poor coordination, low IQ, short attention span, thinking problems and trouble adjusting to school because of brain damage.
Drinking alcohol while pregnant may cause a woman to give birth prematurely. Such children are more likely to suffer from behavioural problems such as restlessness, hyperactivity and learning difficulties, according to Nathan Thagana, a consulting gynaecologist and obstetrician in Nairobi.
Saying that he knows a parent who was ‘expelled’ from five nursery schools for his hyperactivity, Dr Thagana argues that it may be necessary to take some hyperactive children to special schools although some just get well on their own with time.
Apart from pregnancy-related problems such as FAS and miscarriages, studies show that women who drink may be increasing the danger of having breast cancer, damaged liver, osteoporosis, stroke and depression.
While some women drink to dull the pain of loneliness, grief or other hurts, others do so only at parties. But whatever the situation, drinking women should realise that they are at greater risk than their male counterparts.
Besides the health risks, women who drink alcohol are also vulnerable to abuse while intoxicated. Such women are also thought to be sexually promiscuous and failures in life in a traditionally conservative country like Kenya.