By: Vashti Kelly, Program Manager
The same reasons why society as a whole consumes alcohol are identical for farmworkers. Yet while the specifics of the situations may differ from farmworker to farmworker it is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore, especially when you visit a farmworker housing camp and there are empty cases of beer stacked up outside in the trash pile. Farmworkers drink for a multitude of reasons:
- To relax after a hard day’s work
- As a way to socialize with cohorts
- Help manage current circumstances
- To escape reality
- As a way to mask feelings
Alcohol is the most frequently abused drug because it is plentiful, easily accessible, rather inexpensive, and socially acceptable. The health effects of which include: liver disease; high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke; cancers of the mouth, esophagus, throat, and voice box; pancreatitis; and birth defects in pregnant women. However, these are the direct health effects but there are also causal health effects as a result of intoxication. Alcohol is a drug that can cause mental and physical changes and that affects individuals in varying ways, dependent upon personal factors.
Farmworkers who abuse alcohol are impediments to a safe work environment for themselves as well as others, resulting in work-related injuries and accidental deaths. It is common knowledge that one should not operate heavy machinery while intoxicated; but how many individuals equate that with a combine or tractor? Not to mention that working with and around pesticides produces physical health effects that will in no doubt be further exacerbated by the effects of alcohol on the body. Alcohol consumption and dependence also leads to lowered inhibitions and increases the likelihood of other risky behaviors such as unsafe sex and violence.
Moreover, there are many contributing factors as to why farmworkers end up abusing alcohol and the outcome remains the same: an already vulnerable population are at greater risk for exploitation. While policy reform on farmworker issues such as workers’ rights, immigration, and the like would ease some of the concerns, additional education is required. The healthcare system would benefit from receiving culturally sensitivity training when it comes to serving farmworkers as there is only so much intervention that outreach workers are capable of providing.
AFOP Health & Safety is hoping to create a low literacy program in the future, entirely focused on this issue, to educate farmworkers on alcohol use and abuse. It would undoubtedly be beneficial so that they and their families can live healthier lives.