Alcohol – observations of a non drinker
Is alcohol a massive problem in Thailand? Its readily available but it is causing many problems with family breakdown, abuse and even death. Most car accidents involve alcohol, the national pastime is not football, but going out and getting drunk. It’s commonplace to hear of young people dying in motorbike accidents and you can bet that it is related to alcohol consumption.
You can buy alcohol every second or third shop, licensed or unlicensed, 7-Eleven and Big C, Rimping(for wines) and every restaurant, bar and night club. there have been attempts to stop alcohol sales within 300 metres of schools and educational institutions, but if that was the case half of all venues would have to be closed. One of the biggest entertainment precincts in Chiang Mai is built across the road from our school.
Attempt to limit the distribution of alcohol include limiting purchase times so people are not supposed to be able to buy alcohol between 2pm and 5pm or after midnight. Seriously, apart from a slight annoyance to people, mostly tourists, this is not really effective. Genuine establishments follow these rules but unfortunately most venues have customers sitting in bars and drinking the whole day and who is going stop them from selling alcohol to customers.
Thankfully, these particular customers have the ways and means of getting home safely instead of driving themselves. This is quite the opposite to the later night activities and alcohol sales in bars and clubs where patrons usually try and ride themselves home, with sometimes fatal consequences.
Thailand, especially Chiang Mai, has a drinking culture, there will always be bars, night clubs, parties and the few guys congregating outside their local corner store. Thai people are so welcoming and love to “practice” chatting with a white face, so I often get welcomed to join these gatherings of people hanging out with their friends in front of small convenience stores. They are all laughing and having a great time, always with the mix of beer, rum, whiskey, soda, coke and the odd “home brew” rocket fuel! It strips paint if it spills anywhere, but it’s cheap, who knows what it is doing to their insides. Thankfully, they live close by so will walk or call someone to come get them, maybe they will putt home on their 20 year old Honda just above walking pace. It’s not a good scenario but it’s life in the villages.
In the city it slightly different, lots of noise, dancing, alcohol and cultural collisions. The foreign “drink yourself under the table/drink til you drop” attitude is invading the casual Thai ways of consumption. Although, I am rarely out at around midnight, whenever I am, I regularly see young people inebriated and being walked along or even carried home. They can’t even hold on to their friends and have no way of controlling any body part. Thankfully their friends are there, but when they aren’t, there are plenty of other guys hanging around to take advantage of this situation. Please look after your drunk friends and get them home safely.
I have been in Chiang Mai a while and while I have never drunk, I have been to all types of bars and clubs, but none of the more expensive “singing and entertainment” venues. This is a recent observation of a large venue in Chiang Mai. Alcohol consumption at most venues is not regulated, drinks are brought to the table and that’s where the responsibility of the establishment finishes. The venue wants to see as many bottles cross the table as possible during the time the group is at the table. Rack up a bill and easily remove the money from drunk patrons at the end of the night. Who knows how many beers and sodas and ice buckets have been consumed. Anything opened and on the table is billed even though no one can drink anymore. The venue staff always make sure your table is full, well it’s their job.
Anyway, it’s usually up to the guests to prepare their own drinks and top up various amounts of alcohol with the mixers of their choice. Who knows how many standard drinks have been consumed? It’s completely random and hits people at different times and levels of inebriation, but generally Thai people have lower thresholds for drunkenness. One friend was the life of the party one minute and legless 10 minutes later. They were carried home and all the while talking nonsense, whilst their friends maneuvered them through the maze to the apartment, they were staying locally because they were from another part of the city. Straight to the bathroom, with a guy and girl helping out, slumped on the floor still swearing and carrying on, yet unable to move, laying there, I was waiting outside with the others. In and out of the bathroom, they went, then silence, then the unmistakable sounds of excessive alcohol consumption and then more showering and “dressing” and crawling out 30 minutes later to curl up in the corner of the room, quiet and asleep. Her friend took to drying her hair with a hairdryer and I left. It was interesting to observe, with minimal participation except minor assistance “standing” our friend up. My friends said this was a regular occurrence for their drunk friend. What can this be doing to a mind and body?
It encouraged me, seeing friends helping friends, but it is a little sad that they were part of the cause, especially knowing that it is happening regularly with this person. Most Thai people, who like to drink alcohol, do so until they can physically drink no more. They don’t seem to have an internal limit that foreigners have had to deal with in their own countries, where DUI and drink driving is punished harshly including big fines and license suspensions or cancellations. The punishments here are minimal if caught, which is highly unlikely. The foreigner will most always be able to handle alcohol consumption when compared with a smaller Thai counterpart. Sometimes they take advantage of this and it can be detrimental to the Thai person involved. The foreign concept of responsible consumption of alcohol might be a welcome method of modifying drinking habits. Who knows?
Internally do Thai people drink to clear their minds, forget their circumstances or to “have fun”? I have never drunk so don’t have too much to go on in this regard. It seems to be Thai daily life, a drink with mates down the local, where in Australia and the US/UK, it’s more of a weekend social activity. The Thai warm relational culture lends itself to this daily practice, people getting together and chatting about the daily affairs, the weather or whatever else is going on. They need to be with others all the time and many times the family is not where they want to be.
Younger Thai people are always hanging out with their friends, either high school, college or university friends that they do daily life with. They sometimes spend 24/7 with these people, little groups, that are difficult to separate, but provide a social setup, similar to family, which may be left behind in the person’s home town. Western individualistic culture may see these groups come together weekly or monthly, so we party hard at those times, but it can be every night in Thailand. It’s just what happens!
The need for relationship and relaxation seems to happen easily around a table with plenty of drinks. It can take place at a large public venue or out the front of just about any business. It’s friends getting together to cap off the day.
Money makes the world go round and it’s a massive factor in the what of alcohol consumption. Some people will be always outside and in the bars every night and others will be visiting their bottle shop on the way home.
The venues around town are always promoting their bands or DJs to bring the masses through their doors whilst other venues are full every night without any excess promotions, just because of their reputation or performing talent.
Chiang Mai is ever changing on the night time scene, however there are several mainstays and I will not be naming any particular venues or areas in this post, but safe to say you have gone or will go to these places even during the shortest trip to Chiang Mai. Money is a massive factor, as well as connections, so you will always see bars coming and going, but not as often as coffee shops. There’s always a need for places for people to get together, so there will always be bars, clubs and other venues.
People soon get to know all the venues and the times and the best time to be there. Even though, by law, there is to be no alcohol sold after midnight many establishments are able to sell alcohol until much later, and some aren’t even open until after midnight. Just ask around and you will find them. How can they sell alcohol after midnight? It’s all about the money.
We wish that they would simply be more effort put into policing and random breath tests, but it seems that this is not a priority with a Thai police. The different provincial authorities around Thailand have been tasked with lowering the death toll on the roads but it just doesn’t filter down to the actual police on the street.
There are many reasons why it is not a priority with the police as night time patrols and other things are very minimal in Chiang Mai. Apart from the odd venue raid or irregular random check point, you hardly ever see police out at night time. The check points usually let me straight through and sometimes you see a couple of abandoned bikes near the check point, but you hardly ever see many people being tested or arrested.
Long Term Problems
Alcohol consumption Affects people in multiple different ways some are affected short-term and some after many years of continual consumption. Accidents happen regularly and alcohol plays a part in about one third of all accidents. You may find yourself bruised or banged up with road rash all over if you are lucky, otherwise maybe you find yourself in much worse shape.
A few years ago our friend of mine who was drunk was hit by a car while riding their motorbike, they suffered a broken leg but with the complications that arose it took nearly 2 years to get back to normal, without the need for medical devices holding them together.
Internally, alcohol consumption can lead to long-term breakdown in vital organs and can cause cirrhosis of the liver and heart disease.
Externally, alcohol consumption affects relationships and causes major problems with families and communities. Drinking alcohol changes our mindset and confidence which can lead to bad decisions and possibly abuse, fighting and excessive uncharacteristic actions. Statistics on the number of hand guns and other weapons in the hands of Thai people can lead to violent acts of rage and one young man was shot a few years ago because of a drunk Thai student.
There are around about 15 special days each year that are classified as dry days, where no alcohol is supposed to be sold at any venue, 7-Eleven or restaurant. Strangely enough Buddha’s Birthday is one of them, but it is completely opposite to most normal Thai people who use their birthday as a chance to get wasted. There are always a couple of days warning of the impending “dry day”, but as usual, many people don’t plan too far in advance and are caught short, and need to find their local mom and pop shop for a fix.
Thankfully there are always a few places to restock your fridge. Who will stop these little stores from making a few extra baht on days like these? Certainly not the local authorities.
Another interesting thing about Thailand is the freedom to drink wherever you want to with little worries of being fined or arrested. While there are many signs and posters prohibiting consumption of alcohol at places like Thapae gate, Night Bazaar and the old city, there is no enforcement of these laws, like most road rules as well.
During Songkran week, there are weak attempts made to curtail alcohol consumption, but thankfully the police are not looking too hard for infringers.
Why did I write this?
I have been around bars, clubs and other venues a lot and I don’t mind hanging out with people drinking alcohol, but it pains me to watched them just drive off, “off their faces” and hoping to get home alive. After 10pm, each night, it is estimated around 50 percent of drivers are drunk. Now, how does that make you feel about a quick trip to 7-Eleven for a late night snack?