Being drunk is no excuse for violence

opinion May 05, 2016 01:00

By The Nation

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Alcohol has nothing to do with the psychological issues that lead to vicious behaviour

It’s time to call a halt to the use of drunkenness as an excuse for committing serious crimes. Alcohol was surely a significant factor when a gang of toughs brutally attacked, by their own confession, three British tourists in Hua Hin last month. The police and press reported as if by some form of rote that the thugs claimed they wouldn’t have done so if they hadn’t been drunk. We have no reason to doubt the same claim made by the six louts who allegedly murdered a man delivering bread to homes in Bangkok last week.
There is an appalling tendency among authorities and a large segment of the public to forgive violent behaviour when the assailants have been drinking heavily. It’s to be hoped that no judge is so easily swayed when such cases come to court.
Let’s be clear about this: Citing drunkenness as an excuse for harmless misbehaviour is tolerable within limits, but in cases of violence it is justification of the most shameless kind.
In the Songkran attack in Hua Hin, four men ages 20 to 32 punched and kicked unconscious a British couple, both 68, and their 43-year-old son. The police say the son accidentally bumped into one of the men and the “altercation” ensued. In Bangkok’s Chokchai 4 neighbourhood, six young men in their late teens and early 20s allegedly beat up and stabbed to death a deliveryman. They had supposedly teased the disabled man and became angry when he had the gall to answer back.
Everyone knows the effects of alcohol – the capacity to judge is diminished, there’s a false sense of bravery or invincibility, the inhibitions are lowered. In a crowd of drinkers, with peer pressure in play, the influence of booze becomes even more acute and people are more easily goaded into behaviour they would otherwise shun. It is a whirlpool of dislodged emotions and impulses, yet even so, where is the rationale for assaulting someone?
In Thailand, in those narrow confines where alcohol advertising is allowed, a warning commonly appears that intoxication might lead to physical altercations or even the commission of crime. Brewers and distillers prefer this to being required by law to warn consumers of possible negative impacts on health, which might prove more discouraging. Regardless, any such warnings go ignored.
Thailand’s per capita alcohol consumption is high, especially compared to that of other countries. More than 31 per cent of Thais age 15 and up – that’s 17 million people – drink regularly, according to a 2013 report by the Centre for Alcohol Studies. On average they drink 7.1 litres of pure alcohol a year each, the equivalent of 226 bottles of beer or 25 bottles of spirits, the highest rate in Southeast Asia. 
From the throes of intoxication comes the decision to get behind the wheel of a car, fully confident that reflexes and vision are not impaired. From the depths of drunkenness comes the impulse to flirt or take risks or, perhaps if money’s a problem, to rob. Violent behaviour, though, comes from somewhere else entirely, and if that is what the alcohol releases from within, it’s not precisely the alcohol that’s the problem.
The authorities can pile on all the rules and regulations they wish – on the hours and places booze can be sold, on the minimum age limit, on the alcohol content in every bottle and can. It still wouldn’t do as much good as overcoming this widespread belief that being drunk is by itself an excuse for any misbehaviour.
Schools and public campaigns try to persuade people to drink responsibly and religious leaders and philosophers urge moderation in this as in other aspects of life. That is as it should be. But there is a separate breed of drinkers who must realise, or be shown how to recognise, that they have a problem not so much with alcohol as with violent tendencies. When the blood boils quickly, booze-impaired judgement is only a fraction of the problem.