It is redundant to spend time discussing the harms of alcohol on learning. It’s stating the obvious like saying guns are bad for education or bombs are bad for brains. Nor should we waste our breath talking about how to get people to stop drinking because that would be really hard.
Nonetheless, it’s nothing we should overlook when trying to help develop young brains. Binge drinking among university students gets a lot of press in many countries, but it’s easier to talk about it because most university students are technically adults. They have the right of free choice even though alcohol is something that makes making right choices hard. It’s that very reason that many young people drink. It helps them to feel uninhibited and socially confident. Starting young sets behavior patterns for later years.
I had a conversation with a young man who said he started drinking when he was 11. I was pretty surprised, but he said it’s not uncommon and that girls drank too. He admits now at 22 that his memory isn’t very good and that his brain gets tired easily. It’s either because he still drinks by the crate or because starting early caused irreparable damage.
The young developing brain drowned in alcohol doesn’t do well. There is scientific evidence. During adolescence, alcohol can damage two key parts of the brain that are responsible for logic, reasoning, self-regulation and judgment as well as parts of the brain used for learning and memory.
I wondered who was selling alcohol to an 11 year-old, but this young man assured me that it was no problem since parents habitually send their children down the street to stock up on the booze. If the kids are still doing booze runs later in adolescence, they will understand well why there isn’t enough money to send them to school.
Hitting the bottle isn’t fair to women either, either as drinker or drinkee. Husbands are more likely to hit them after a few rounds. Ends are less likely to meet when liquor is a part of daily expenses. Children are less likely study hard when they see their adult role-models spend more time with bottles than books. It would take a Herculean manly effort for a man to refuse a drinking round with the reply, “No thank you, I have a daughter to educate.”
Nothing will change until drinking is seen as a problem. As it stands, it is considered normal if not essential for socializing, harmonizing and communicating. In Japan, for example, the normality of drinking to smooth social relations is called “nomunication” or “boozication”. One HR manager explained to me that excessive drinking is not a concern, that alcohol at parties is a large part of budgets and that it is the natural release valve for stress that otherwise would be hard to deal with and is not something that HR wants to feel responsible for.
What Laos does have is an institution that keeps young men and boys out of reach of alcohol, pornography and general delinquency. We all have met the studious and disciplined young man who attributes his education to the time spent in a temple. Many boys join a temple because their families don’t have the money to send them to school. Let’s just hope that the reason is not because the household budget is being drained by alcohol. Everything has its place.