Kids Corner


A Booze Epidemic Plagues Our Community:
The Roundtable Open Forum # 119





A recovering Derby alcoholic says drink is “a massive problem in the Sikh community and it is a real taboo subject".

Jaz Singh Rai says it is a problem that is swept under the carpet.

And he believes that part of the problem is in the lack of support for ethnic minorities in traditional recovery groups like Alcoholics Anonymous.

Talking to him now, you would never know that he used to down a litre of vodka every day.

Because of his drinking, the Rolls-Royce worker lost his driving licence three times and was hospitalised.

But now, in his fifth year as a recovering alcoholic, Jaz wants to tell his story to raise awareness about the help that is out there and how alcohol is affecting the Sikh community in Derby. The following is his story, in his own words:

I started drinking when I was 17, just as a social thing. I was at Wilmorton College and went to the pub one dinnertime and had a drink.

I didn’t even particularly like it, but there was a certain amount of peer pressure. It was cool to walk around with a pint. I started drinking spirits and progressed from there. Without realising it, my tolerance levels were building up and I was drinking more regularly.

This carried on for a few years until 1997, when I got laid-off at the place where I was working. I wanted to get into business and bought a shop. That’s when it started getting bad. The first thing I’d do when I got back from work would be to go to the fridge and get a beer out.

I’d drink a couple or three cans throughout the evening but that wouldn’t be enough and I’d need more. Then I went on to the hard stuff. It became apparent to my family, my wife and my brother that there was a problem and that, if I didn’t cut back or stop, it would get a hold of me.

In November 1997, we were driving back from a wedding in Bedford and I was having withdrawal symptoms in the car. I didn’t realise what was happening at the time but, as soon as I got home, I went upstairs to have a lie down and collapsed, having a fit.

I found out afterwards that it was an alcohol-induced fit. I only got them when I was coming off the drink. I went into hospital and the staff asked me what I was drinking and kept me in for a week. They basically detoxed me. The alarm bells were ringing, but I was oblivious to them.

Days after coming out of hospital, I started drinking again. At the height, I was drinking a litre bottle of vodka a day. I would start first thing in the morning, as soon as I woke up. My wife, Davinder, would say to me, ‘You are an alcoholic’, but I hated that. If I had been off the drink for a week or two, she would try to talk to me again and say, ‘If you aren’t an alcoholic at least admit you are recovering alcoholic’. But I wasn’t having any of it.

In 2000, I decided to stop drinking for a year. As the months went on, I got stronger and thought I’d cracked it. As soon as that year ended, I started drinking beer again. But it wasn’t enough and I would be drinking vodka secretly. It escalated from there and went from bad to worse.

In 2008 I lost my driving licence for the final time and I was at my lowest. But even then, after the shame of going to court, I was feeling too much denial, guilt and remorse and those things stopped me from going out and seeking help.

My turning point was in 2009. I woke up one morning and just wanted my life back. I wanted to go back to the things I enjoyed and be part of the community. All I had at that time was an existence – it wasn’t a life. I would go out and get a drink, then sit alone in the house. I’d detached myself from family and friends and from the gurdwara. I didn’t go for nine months to the place that gave me so much.

I just thought, ‘I’ve had enough of this. That was when I was told about BAC-IN, in Nottingham. It was the spiritual awakening that I needed. ["BAC-IN" -- Black & Asian Cultural Identification of Narcotics]

It showed me that I wasn’t alone. They said that I should attend a meeting similar to the Alcoholics Anonymous groups, which follows a 12-step programme.

On March 13, I went for my first recovery-based meeting. There were seven of us there. Even though I hadn’t had a drink since January 20, I thought there was a conspiracy between my wife and the people who ran the group because everyone’s stories just mirrored mine.

I was thinking, ‘Have they planned this?’ I was so paranoid.

Then, when it came to my time to share, it was like a massive weight off my shoulders. In my drinking, all I wanted was sympathy, but then I realised that it was the drinking that led me to that. It was empathy I needed.

And it’s not just the effect that drinking has on you but the effect it has on your family, friends and colleagues. It was an awful time for my wife. When she got home from work, she had no idea what state I was going be in.

I also had a habit of not answering the phone or the door and there were times when my mum, Surinder, didn’t know if I was dead or alive.

I always thought I enjoyed drinking. Since I began exploring myself, I found I had a lot of resentment in me and that it manifested itself in drinking instead of talking to people. Now, when I speak to people, it comes out in a calm way. With the alcohol, it just sort of exploded.

It was no one thing but a combination of work, family – even at the gurdwara, if there was a tense meeting, alcohol was my way of dealing with everything.

Since I’ve been to the meetings, I’ve learned that there are other ways to deal with it. I still think about drinking but I know that I can call people and there is support there for me if I need it.

But there needs to be greater education about addiction and it falls on everyone – schools, family and religious groups.

In the Sikh community, we need to address it at places like the gurdwara but not to lecture people.

I want to help other people. In order to get better, I need to pass this message on. I’m 43 now and my father passed away at the age of 52. He was an alcoholic and I don’t want to end up the same way. I want to see my children grow up.”

The group that I attend is one that caters for Asian and black people. BAC-IN was set up because these groups often find it difficult to access AA meetings. There are cultural difficulties that people from these backgrounds face that make it difficult for them to talk to people who are not from that same background.

For instance, if I am talking to a Sikh person about my culture then they understand. If I am talking to a white person, it is a bit more difficult, because they won’t understand why I don’t want to go to an Indian wedding because there is a lot of drink about.

They also may not understand the family network and the pressures you are under. And, while it isn’t something I have faced, people have experienced prejudice and racism within AA meetings.

It is not just within AA that people from minority backgrounds face difficulties.

It is a massive problem in the Sikh community and it is a real taboo subject. We are still sweeping it under the carpet. And, because people don’t want to be labelled alcoholics, druggies and down and outs, they pretend that everything is normal but behind the scenes they are struggling with their addiction.

There is a stigma attached and they are afraid to go and get help because they are worried about what the community would think of them. I know that there were people who were pointing the finger at me and some of them still are. Some don’t believe that I have been five years clean.

They think it is impossible for me to be clean given the amount I used to drink but I know that I haven’t because if I was, then I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you.

It is a massive problem. The amount of suicides because of alcohol that I know about is shocking. I want to let people know that there is help and how I was affected by alcoholism.

The other week I was invited to go to Huddersfield because one of the gurdwara committee there wanted to talk about drugs and alcohol abuse and I was invited to speak there. I spoke openly about my own journey and my own testimony which was a fantastic experience and something I would love to do more of.”


We invite your comments on this problem, regardless of whether you have had a personal experience or only know of those around you who do.


If you think you or someone you know may need help to deal with an alcohol addiction, you can call BAC-IN on 0115 960 9597 or visit Or call your local chapter.

Or you can contact Alcoholics Anonymous on 0845 769 7555 or visit www.alcoholics-anonymous. Or call your local chapter.

[Coourtesy: The Derby Telegraph. Edited for]
April 24, 2014

Conversation about this article

1: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), April 24, 2014, 6:17 PM.

Very powerful but puzzling story! I am sure many decent Sikhs who have read this like myself completely forget that use, not just abuse, of mind-altering substances is strictly prohibited in Sikhi. Where's the ambiguity? This should be enough graphic information for our children ... as well as the adults!

2: Bishen Singh (New Delhi, India), April 24, 2014, 6:21 PM.

This disease pursues us not only in India but across the diaspora. Not just the uneducated and the unsophisticated fall prey to it ... it is shocking to see how many amongst us who are educated, privileged and wealthy who have willingly and voluntarily surrendered their minds to this scourge. Proves that Sikhi has to be lived, not merely put on like a garment or identity, to be able to stave off the lures of the world.

3: H. Kaur (Canada), May 07, 2014, 3:04 AM.

I don't know any society where there isn't a stigma attached to people who abuse alcohol. It isn't something anyone brags about at a job interview or even to their coworkers. They even go to great lengths to hide it including with those flat bottles that fit into pockets. No matter who on this earth abuses alcohol excessively, it will effect their health and family life.

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The Roundtable Open Forum # 119"

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