The Songkran festival runs from tomorrow until next Wednesday. This gives us a longer-than-usual holiday to have fun with the Thai New Year celebrations this year.
But the good news is tempered by the concern of a group of anti-road accident campaigners that the number of traffic accidents during this period is likely to be higher than usual, too.
Over the years Thailand has been working hard to promote road safety in an attempt to curb the number of driving casualties, especially during the long public holidays. But we have yet to see any significant success.
Last Songkran, 320 people died and 3,320 were injured in 3,129 crashes that took place during the so-called 7 Dangerous Days. Worse, this New Year's death toll within a similar time frame was 365, plus 3,329 injuries from 3,176 accidents.
The figures from the two aforementioned holiday periods are not much different from those in previous years and the major cause remains the same _ drunk driving.
It's sad to see the loss of so many lives during a time when everyone is supposed to be happy. And it's a pity to learn that such a loss is actually preventable if only the vehicle drivers weren't under the influence of alcohol.
Alcoholic drinks are very popular in Thailand, as in many parts of the world. The World Health Organisation says one-third of the world population drinks alcohol. And the latest figures from the National Statistical Office show that nearly a third of Thai people aged over 15 develop the drinking habit.
I believe there must be at least one member in every family who drinks some sort of alcoholic beverage _ be it beer, wine, whiskey, liquor or brandy. I myself grew up surrounded by many drinkers _ my father included.
Throughout my childhood, I got used to the picture of my father sipping a fair amount of his favourite brandy after dinner every day. And on every family gathering, he and nearly all my male relatives would have fun drinking together. Along the course, they would be unusually joyful and garrulous and would often laugh raucously at things that might not be funny at all.
The scenario is very typical at every late-night party everywhere. Usually, Thai people drink on nearly every occasion, if not every day, throughout the year. Even at my office's Christmas and anniversary parties, many staff quaff the free-flowing beer which is considered the essential drink during times of celebration.
People drink alcohol for many reasons. They know perfectly well that it is harmful to their health. Still, they just can't live without it. For many, alcohol is part of their lives.
I think the major reason that makes them drink is because they're addicted to the joyful feelings brought on by alcoholic beverages. Some say they drink to relax, to socialise, to forget, or to soften the hard edges of life. But deep down they can't deny that it's just because they want to feel better emotionally.
Alcohol is a depressant in its chemical action. It negatively affects the central nervous system. It blocks some of the messages trying to get to the brain. As a result, a person's perceptions, emotions and movements are impaired.
In small doses, alcohol can help a person feel more relaxed or less anxious. But excessive drinking can corrupt a person's mind to the extent that he/she loses complete rational control over himself/herself.
That's why we often see people act totally out of character when they get drunk. And, in the worse cases, some people become unreasonably aggressive to the point that they harm those around them. Just look at the horrible crimes in the newspapers _ most of the perpetrators were reportedly drunk before they committed the crime.
Considering all the negative impacts alcohol can have on our lives, many of us may start to understand why our religion teaches us not to drink it in the first place. In fact, among the five precepts, drinking is considered the most serious offence.
Buddhism regards alcohol as a mind-altering substance which causes heedlessness. This can lead us to commit many bad deeds _ killing, stealing, sexual misconduct and lying. But, sadly, most of us don't care about this last precept at all.
Alcohol might seem harmless in the eyes of casual drinkers who are confident that they know their limits. For them, the words "mindful drinking" always makes a sound excuse. But if they truly understand how it feels to be mindful, I don't think they will ever want to drink alcohol at all.
Even in small amounts, alcohol can cloud the inherent clarity of the mind. And this state of the mind is far less pleasant than when they are fully aware of themselves. Perhaps those "mindful drinkers" should prove this by themselves so they can say if it's still worth drinking.
It's hard to persuade people to stop drinking. The practice has deep cultural roots and dates far back to ancient times _ the first farmers were making beer and wine thousands of years ago. And what makes it harder is the fact that we have long been brainwashed by alcohol companies to believe that drinking can make life happier and that it is a normal practice.
But if people look at the issue more closely, they will realise that this kind of practice is no longer acceptable as far as health is concerned. And if they are mindful enough, they will have to admit that the more they drink, the more spiritually weak they become.
I think it's very challenging to find a way to make Thai people mentally strong enough to say no to any intoxicating substances and wise enough to learn to enjoy life in a more constructive way. Once alcohol is out of the picture, every holiday will truly be a time of joy for everyone.
Patcharawalai Sanyanusin is a writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.
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- Writer: Patcharawalai Sanyanusin