JAKARTA — Rising incomes mean that Asians are increasingly likely to get drunk at least once a month, according to new data underpinning a report on global drinking habits published this week in The Lancet, a British medical journal. Since 1990, so-called “heavy episodic drinking” has increased significantly in China, Thailand, Timor Leste and Vietnam. Tiny Bhutan, source of the concept of “gross national happiness,” coined by the country’s king in 1972 as an alternative to the standard economic yardsticks of gross national product or income per capita, is more often drowning its sorrows.
Does the answer lie in the past? Under British rule, particularly before the Great Famine in the 1840s, the manufacture of absinthe-potency alcohol known as poitín was a nationwide illegal cottage industry requiring little technical expertise or equipment. This quasi-hallucinogenic brew was widely popularised as both a symbol of defiance of British rule (the Royal Irish Constabulary and its antecedents had special units designed to stamp out the industry/custom, which were met with ingenious schemes to maintain underground production) and a quick, cheap means of getting hammered.