In an open parking lot at a residential area of Roysambu on Thika road, booming music emanates from the parked vehicles.
Occasionally, the sound of a bottle falling on the ground or wild screaming shows the intoxicated state of the people in the cars. It is the new normal since Covid-19 shut the doors to bars, but opened up innovative ways in which people, especially the youth, continue with their overindulgence in alcohol.
Inside homes, the parties continue. It is common to see trolleys in supermarkets packed with alcoholic beverages among other household items, a sign that lack of access to a bar has not stopped Kenyans from drinking.
The pubs have moved to homes, and psychologists are raising concerns on the impact it could have on children. Teresia Wairimu, a youth counselor, says over the last two years, the number of cases of teenagers and children as young as nine years being brought under her care for being hooked on alcohol has been on the increase.
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“When you look at the histories of children who are trying out alcohol and other drugs, you will notice that either their parents are alcoholics, or they have a traumatic and difficult past,” she says.
She adds that during stressful times, such as during the Covid-19 pandemic, some parents have resorted to alcohol, and this sends a message to children who are closely watching them that consuming alcohol is a way of dealing with stress.
“Children are watching. From the first sip you take, and how you seem to relax when the alcohol gets to your system. They start thinking that if they want to feel good, they should take alcohol,” she says.
Phillis Auka, an online content creator, says since her husband started working from home, he has been increasing the amount of alcohol he takes. She says when she tried confronting him about the risk of sinking into alcoholism, he casually said drinking in his house harms nobody.
“He says when he gets drunk at home, he can get to bed and sleep. It worries me that he might make it a habit and he might not know how to stop,” she says.
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Isaac Ngutu, a marriage counselor, says many couples have been struggling with alcoholism and the effects it has on marriages, such as domestic violence and negligence.
Last week, Nacada chairperson Mabel Imbuga said alcohol use contributes to the highest burden of substance use disorders with 10.4 per cent of the population aged between 15 and 65 years being addicted to alcohol.
“We are particularly concerned over the alcohol drinking behaviour characterised by increased cases of drinking bouts in homes in the presence of children, some of whom are carrying out online learning programmes. We have also observed that many clients are allowed to drink in closed bars,” Imbuga said during the commemoration of international day against drug abuse and illicit trafficking.
Despite government’s attempt to crack down on people who are holding parities in estates, there are still several residential buildings where such meetings are held, under the cover of ‘family meetings’, making it difficult for law enforcers to crack the whip.
Jude K’ouko, a social worker at Mathare North, says there has been an increase of domestic violence and child abuse, and he relates it partly to the fact that people are drinking at home. “They wake up and grab alcohol. By midday, they are drunk. Then they start hitting their children, and it is so traumatising because the child is supposed to feel safe at home,” he says.
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He attributes it to the increasing financial demands brought by the virus, and the feeling of hopelessness that people in the slum who were mostly casual workers but have since been stopped.
According to a study done last year by the Institute of Alcohol Studies in the UK, most people have a misconception that children are too young to notice that their parents are abusing alcohol, while the reality is that children not only notice when their parents are intoxicated, but they also develop fear and trust issues, especially when their parents become abusive or irresponsible while drunk.
The report, which included a variety of study methods such as surveys, focus groups and a public inquiry, found that most children are able to identify when their parents are tipsy and drunk.
It discourages the practice of parents giving their children sips of alcohol while they are drinking, saying that research has found a correlation between early exposure to alcohol to the likelihood of the children becoming addicted.