Alcoholism and its devastating effects on South African society
Throughout the world alcohol and its abuse causes devastation with far-reaching socio and economic effects. Alcohol is the primary drug of abuse in South Africa1 partially due to its accessibility, legal status and social acceptability. From the high-powered businessman who enjoys Friday cocktails with clients and colleagues, the impoverished beggar on the corner all the way to children and learners as young as seven years of age, alcohol addiction affects people across all levels of South African society. Whether the person affected is a social drinker, a binge drinker or functioning alcoholic, alcoholism does not discriminate and occurs across all races, genders, ages, socio-economic boundaries and professions.
As an example of how easy it is to obtain alcohol, in my low, middle income suburb (Albertville, Gauteng) with its approximately 4700 residents2 of all ages, races and genders there are four bars, three bottle stores and two shebeens in an area of 0.88km2 – all in close walking distance of each other. Alcohol is responsible for nearly half of all motor accidents in our country and it is estimated that it affects 17.5 million South Africans1. Studies further show that children who start drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to become alcoholics1.
Apart from its detrimental impact on an alcoholic’s health (liver damage, pancreatic, brain “shrinkage”, memory loss, depression and anxiety, to mention but a few), alcoholism also leads to higher incidences of drunk driving related accidents, increased traffic fatalities, public and private property damage, higher insurance premiums, decline in health and development of chronic health conditions, decreased workplace productivity (due to absenteeism), impoverishment, homelessness, increased work related accidents, violent crimes, theft, domestic violence, child abuse and, hence, increased criminal justice and law enforcement expenses3.
The following are some staggering facts on the ravages of alcoholism on the youth in SA:
- 122 out of every 1000 Grade 1 pupils in the Northern Cape town of De Aar have FAS (Foetal Alcohol Syndrome – caused by mothers who drink during pregnancy) , the highest incidence of the syndrome in one population anywhere in the world1.
- Children who have one alcoholic parent have a 60% chance of becoming one. This percentage rises to 80% if both parents are alcoholics1.
- 60% of Grade 8-11 learners in Cape schools that misuse alcohol had to repeat their grade1.
- By the age of 18 more than 60% of teenagers has become drunk. 30% had used school time or work time to drink4.
- According to research done in May 2008, 20% of 14 year old boys and nearly half of 17 year old boys drank in the previous month. The figure for girls was a bit lower with 18% of 14 year olds and 35% of 17 year olds in the same period1.
With these shocking facts facing us and on the increase we must remember that alcoholism is a diagnosable disease that slowly develops over time and is in no way indicative of an individual’s moral standing. As with drug addicts and drugs, people turn to alcohol to escape, relax or to reward themselves. Users feel that they are in control but over time the alcohol creeps up on them and makes the user believe that he/she cannot cope without alcohol.
Fortunately, as a disease, alcoholism can be overcome like any form of addiction recovery, preferably at a registered drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre. While it is extremely difficult for an individual to beat alcoholism and alcohol addiction alone, together with the support of loved ones, professional medical and therapeutic experts as well as qualified counsellors the chances of recovery improve drastically. This is why at Houghton House, with over 23 years’ experience, we remain committed to assisting alcoholics and those close to them to take the first steps to going back to leading normal lives.
For more information or assistance, for yourself or a loved one, please do not hesitate to contact us.
office hours: 011 787 9142 (local) +27 11 787 9142 (international)
24 hour emergency helpline: 079 770 7532 (local) +27 79 770 7532 (international)
Helping people to regain their lives, since 1995.
- WHO Global Status Report on Alcohol, 2004
- The Lancet Medical Journal, 2009