Alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence is a growing problem in South Africa, affecting both the health and welfare of the alcoholic, their family and even friends and colleagues. Ranked among the top beer drinking nations of the world and home to one of the largest breweries internationally, South Africa has not tackled the problem of alcohol abuse head on. Lax regulation and enforcement has allowed alcohol abuse to spread to younger age groups and seen illegal taverns (shebeens) pop up throughout South African suburbs.
Alcohol users who may be experiencing either health or social consequences due to their lack of control over alcohol can be broadly divided into three categories.
- Binge drinkers do not usually consume alcohol daily and do not have a dependence on alcohol. A binge drinker is typically the “weekend boozer” who drinks in excess at one sitting, often within their social circle. This behaviour is commonly seen in young persons, teenagers, in schools and colleges, with a “drink till you drop” mentality. Binge drinking usually does not affect the drinkers health or social circumstance.
- Alcohol abusers are also not dependent on alcohol and may not display alcohol withdrawal symptoms should they stop consuming alcohol. However their frequent alcohol consumption does affect their jobs, family and interpersonal relationships. Usually this behaviour is associated a lack of control and responsibility with alcohol.
- An ‘alcoholic‘ is a casual term for a person who is dependent or addicted to alcohol. Their dependence often affects their family, job and social functioning and may have severe health effects. Alcoholics usually crave alcohol, have no control over their drinking, develop and increasing tolerance for alcohol over time and display withdrawal symptoms should they stop drinking.
Treatment for Alcoholism
An alcoholic who has come to the realization that he or she needs help to overcome their dependence may often find it difficult to undergo alcohol rehabilitation. This usually involves a process of alcohol detox, psychiatric treatment and/or drug therapy with continuing support through groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
Alcohol rehabilitation is not an overnight process with alcohol detox lasting between 5 to 10 days as the alcoholic experiences severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Relapses are common during this period as the withdrawal signs and symptoms may be unbearable and it is therefore essential that rehabilitation is undertaken in a suitable facility. There are a number of private and government funded rehabilitation clinics in South Africa staffed by medical professionals specializing in substance abuse and rehabilitation.
Like any substance abuse, alcohol rehabilitation is covered by most medical aids in South Africa subject to an annual limit and the detoxification process may be undertaken in a private hospital under the authority of a supervising doctor. The most important part of any alcohol treatment is that the alcoholic is a willing participant in the rehabilitation process and not forced to undergo treatment. Most alcohol rehab centres will not accept any person who is not consenting to treatment.
Alcohol abuse in South Africa has been directly linked to the high mortality rate on South African roads as well as the incidence of women and child abuse within South African homes. Alcohol misuse is also a significant contributing factor to participating in unprotected sex and other dangerous sexual practices that may contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS in South Africa. Without proper education and awareness of the detrimental effects and prevalence of alcohol abuse, the next generation of South Africans will undoubtedly face a similar scourge with alcoholism and substance abuse.