New Delhi, Nov. 10: Marriage doesn’t pull Indians away from alcohol and highly educated women in India have drinking patterns similar to barely educated women, according to a study.
The study has revealed “distinct and systematic” patterns that connect alcohol consumption among men and women in India to socio-economic indicators such as education, standard of living, caste, and religion.
Conducted by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health in the US and the University of Bristol in the UK, the study shows that state-imposed prohibition policies have little effect on the drinking habits of men, but do reduce drinking by women.
Dr S.V. Subramanian, assistant professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, and his colleagues analysed data covering more than 301,000 adults from 92,400 households in 26 states collected during the national family health survey five years ago.
Contradicting earlier findings in developed countries, their results showed that marriage in India did not keep people away from alcohol.
“Men and women who were single, widowed, divorced or separated were less likely to consume alcohol, although the association was not statistically significant for divorced or separated men,” the researchers have said in this month’s Bulletin of the World Health Organisation.
Worst-educated men were twice as likely to consume alcohol as best-educated men.
However, the analysis has revealed a complex, “U-shaped” curve linking alcohol consumption and education levels in women.
Alcohol use patterns among women with primary education did not differ from drinking patterns of women with post-graduate education. Women educated from secondary school to college were less likely to use alcohol than women with the highest level of education.
“But having no education was associated with a greater risk of alcohol consumption,” the researchers said in their report.
A senior Indian psychiatrist said the U-shaped curve might be explained by the growing acceptability of alcohol consumption among educated women.
“Among the lower strata, it was always there, but increased acceptability in recent times would add numbers from the highly educated sections,” said Dr Samir Parikh, a psychiatrist and head of the department of mental health at Max Hospitals in New Delhi.
Psychiatrists have also cautioned that the number of people in India who need to give up or at least reduce alcohol consumption appears to be rising.
“Alcohol use is steadily going up and too many people drink in excess,” said Dr Rajat Ray, a psychiatrist at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi who had led a UN-supported study of drugs and alcohol abuse patterns in India.
Alcohol consumption in India has more than doubled over the past 25 years.
The Harvard-Bristol study also revealed religion and caste-based differences. Muslims were less likely to consume alcohol than Hindus, while both schedules castes and the backward classes had a greater probability of consuming alcohol.