Alcohol use in South Africa is double the world norm, making us a hard-drinking country. It is also the drug of choice of our youth. Between 7.5% and 31.5% of South Africans have an alcohol problem or are at risk of developing one (NDMP 2006-2011)
Alcohol abuse never affects one person – it affects families. There is hardly a family that hasn’t been touched in some way: whether you’re the child of an alcoholic or someone who has been punched on a night out, the fetal-alcohol-syndrome baby of an alcoholic mother, the abused spouse – there are so many examples. It is unusual to come across a family where someone hasn’t been affected by alcohol.
What is considered heavy drinking?
Men: 4 or more drinks/day or more than 14 drinks/week
Women: 3 or more drinks/day or more than 7 drinks/week
About 1 in 4 people who exceed these limits already has alcoholism or alcohol abuse, and the rest are at greater risk for developing these and other problems. Again, individual risks vary. People can have problems drinking less than these amounts, mainly if they drink too quickly. Alcohol can sometimes have lethal consequences. Even small amounts (bottle of wine per week with odd binges) can cause a baby to have fetal-alcohol syndrome in pregnancy.
Fast facts about alcohol use in SA:
- Alcohol is a toxic substance (POISON) to your body.
- The liver can only process one drink per hour.
- Studies show that people who start drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to become alcoholics.
- Alcohol abuse in South Africa is linked to about 60% of all crimes committed. It includes rape, robbery, murder, assault, domestic violence, sexual abuse of children and reckless driving.
- It is responsible for over half of all motor vehicle accidents.
- It also leads to unsafe sexual practices, children born with fetal alcohol syndrome and child neglect.
- The levels of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), in South Africa are the highest ever recorded (Parry, 2005:426).
- Alcohol affects more than 17.5 million South Africans.
- The per capita consumption of alcohol in South Africa is 11 litres, the most in Africa (NDMP, 2019:29).
- 18-22 years old’s are a group of heaviest abuse.
- Binge drinking among the youth is common – drinking more than 5 drinks at one sitting.
Effects of alcohol abuse are:
Appetite changes, weight loss, eczema, headaches, sleep disturbance, poor school and college performance, failure to form and maintain friendships, the tendency to depression or aggressive behaviour, greater likelihood to move on to other drugs.
More serious complications are:
Diseases caused by alcohol abuse include anaemia, cancer, cirrhosis of the liver, brain damage, dementia, depression, heart attacks, strokes, gout, seizures, high blood pressure, infectious diseases, nerve damage and pancreatitis.
Withdrawal from alcohol
When you drink heavily and frequently, your body becomes physically dependent on alcohol and if you decide to quit, you risk developing alarming symptoms. The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal range from mild to severe, and include:
- Shaking/tremors – hands
- Sweating /clammy skin
- Nausea or vomiting
- Anxiety and restlessness
- Stomach cramps and diarrhoea
- Trouble sleeping or concentrating
- Elevated heart rate and blood pressure / fast pulse rate
- Confusion/ hallucinations, delusions, agitation
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually start within 8 hours after you stop drinking, peak in a day or two, and improve within five days. It can occur days later, as well. Individuals may experience fatigue and changes in sleep or mood for months.
Extreme withdrawal- Delirium Tremens
Delirium Tremens, also known as DTs, is the most severe form of alcohol withdrawal. It generally occurs within 24 – 72 hours after alcohol consumption ends, but it can appear 7 to 10 days after the last drink and persist for up to 10 days. Delirium Tremens is considered a life-threatening medical emergency with a mortality rate of between 5 – 25% and should be treated immediately.
Alcoholism treatment may start with detoxification at a medical facility (hospital with a medical emergency unit). Most rehabilitation centres do not treat a patient in withdrawal or present with DT’s – they receive the patient for rehabilitation who had gone through DT’s in a hospital because of its severity.
The best advice is to take a person who develops withdrawal symptoms to the medical emergency unit of your nearest hospital for evaluation and treatment. Do not try to assist the person at home with home remedies.
Alcohol poisoning is the most life-threatening consequence of binge drinking. When someone drinks too much and gets alcohol poisoning, it affects the body’s involuntary reflexes — including breathing and the gag reflex. If the gag reflex isn’t working properly, a person can choke to death on their vomit.
• inability to be awakened
• slow or irregular breathing
• low body temperature
• bluish or pale skin
- If the person is unconscious, turn the person on their side and check they are breathing.
- Do not lie them on their back, in case they vomit while unconscious.
- In South Africa dial 10177 (telephone) / 112 (cell phone) for an ambulance – stay with the person
- Try to keep the individual awake
- If the person is conscious – try to keep them in a sitting position, not lying down.
- If the person is conscious and can take it, give them water.
- Please don’t give them coffee, it will worsen their dehydration.
- Please do not give them any more alcohol to drink.
- Please do not make them walk.
Korsakoff’s syndrome is a brain disorder usually associated with heavy alcohol consumption over a long period. Although Korsakoff’s syndrome is not strictly speaking dementia, people with the condition experience short-term memory loss. Korsakoff syndrome is caused by a lack of Vitamin B1 (Thiamine), which affects the brain and central nervous system. People who drink excessive amounts of alcohol are often thiamine deficient.
A-Z Guide to Alcoholism & Depression
This guide outlines the link between alcoholism and depression. The article explains why this link exists and then provides tips you can implement to make positive change.
• When do you want to stop drinking or start drinking less? Tomorrow? In a week? Next month? Within six months? If you’re trying to stop drinking, set a specific quit date.
1. Get rid of temptations. Remove all alcohol, barware, and other drinking reminders from your home and office.
2. Announce your goal. Let friends, family members, and co-workers know that you’re trying to stop drinking. If they drink, ask them to support your recovery by not doing so in front of you.
3. Be upfront about your new limits. Make it clear that drinking will not be allowed in your home and that you may not be able to attend events where alcohol is being served.
4. Avoid bad influences. Distance yourself from people who don’t support your efforts to stop drinking or respect the limits you’ve set. This may mean giving up certain friends and social connections.
5. Learn from the past. Reflect on previous attempts to stop drinking. What worked? What didn’t? What can you do differently this time to avoid pitfalls?
Whether or not you can successfully cut back on your drinking depends on the severity of your drinking problem. If you’re an alcoholic—which means you aren’t able to control your drinking—it’s best to try to stop drinking entirely.
How to avoid drinking triggers
• Avoid the things that trigger your urge to drink. If certain people, places, or activities trigger a craving for alcohol, try to avoid them.
• Practice saying “no” to alcohol in social situations. Prepare ahead for how you’ll respond, with a firm, yet polite, “no thanks.”
Examples of emotional triggers:
depression, tiredness, hunger, loneliness, anger, boredom, feelings of exclusion, frustration, excited.
• Talk to someone you trust.
• Distract yourself until the urge passes. Go for a walk, listen to music, do some housecleaning, run an errand, or tackle a quick task.
• Remind yourself of your reasons for not drinking.
• Accept the urge and ride it out, instead of trying to fight it. This is known as “urge surfing.” Think of your craving as an ocean wave that will soon crest, break, and dissipate. When you ride out the craving, without trying to battle, judge, or ignore it, you’ll see that it passes more quickly than you’d think
• Lean on close friends and family – Having the support of friends and family members is an invaluable asset in recovery. If you’re reluctant to turn to your loved ones because you’ve let them down before, consider going to couples counselling or family therapy.
• Build a sober social network – If your previous social life revolved around alcohol, you may need to make some new connections. It’s important to have sober friends who will support your recovery. Try taking a class, joining a church or a civic group, volunteering, or attending events in your community.
• Consider moving into a sober living home – Sober living homes provide a safe, supportive place to live while you’re recovering from alcohol addiction. They are a good option if you don’t have a stable home or an alcohol-free living environment to go to.
• Make meetings a priority – Join a recovery support group and attend meetings regularly. Spending time with people who understand exactly what you’re going through can be very healing. You can also benefit from the group members’ shared experiences and learn what others have done to stay sober.
Points to consider when making the change are:
- How do you deal with stress?
- Who are your friends?
- How do you spend your free time?
- What do you think about yourself?
For a start:
- Think about your change.
- Keep track of your drug use.
- List the pros and cons of quitting.
- Consider what is important to you – your partner, your kids, your career.
- Talk to someone you trust about quitting.
- List things that are preventing you from changing.
Questions to consider:
- Do you feel guilty about your behaviour?
- Do you make promises to stop drinking/drug use?
- Do you find yourself trying to justify the way you feel and act?
- Have you given up responsibility for your addiction?
- Do you feel alone, rejected, fearful, angry, guilty or exhausted?
- Did you ever lose time from work or school due to your addiction?
- Do you ever use it alone?
- Do you avoid people or places that do not approve of you using drugs?
- Have you ever tried to stop or control your use?
- Have you ever lied about what or how much you use?
To learn more about signs & symptoms of alcohol abuse, do a self- test quiz: Alcohol Abuse Quiz
National Helpline: 0861 HELP AA (435-722)*
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