Durban - South Africans’ heavy boozing habits, especially among women, are costing the local and national government an estimated R17 billion each year.

World Health Organisation statistics show South Africa is among countries where people show the most risky patterns of drinking in the world. Other countries on this list included Belarus, Belize, Grenada, Guatemala, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Namibia, the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and Zimbabwe.

South African women also topped the list of heavy drinking females on the continent.

A recent study by Dr Richard Matzopoulos of the South African Research Council showed alcohol was the most widely abused drug in South Africa, costing the government billions of rands.

The study indicated that in 2010, R17bn was allocated by the national and provincial governments to address alcohol-related harms.

His study estimated that the cost of alcohol to the national and provincial health departments was R6bn a year.

Matzopoulos’s study showed that alcohol abuse was not only robbing the country of money, it was also the third-largest contributor to death and disability after unsafe sexually transmitted infections and interpersonal violence, both of which are influenced by alcohol consumption.

Charl Davids, deputy head of University of the Western Cape’s psychology department, said the legacy of the “dop system”, in which workers were paid with alcohol, had led to the abuse prevalent in today’s society.

“Parents who abuse alcohol today still teach it to their children, who see drinking as normal, and so the cycle continues.

“Because it is viewed as a more socially acceptable recreational pastime, alcohol abuse has also become a bigger problem than drugs,” said Davids.

Lack of controls around alcohol’s accessibility, specially at illegal shebeens, also contributed to abuse because young children had access to alcohol, said Davids.

“We live in a society in which violence and rape against women is generally very high. If you look at areas like the Cape Flats, women would probably self-medicate to deal with these types of social ills, which is why so many South African women resort to drinking. When it comes to depression and anxiety, depressed communities use alcohol to numb their problems,” he said.

Spokeswoman Priya Reddy said there were wide-ranging strategies to deal with alcohol and drug abuse, and their related problems.

“The Social Development and Early Childhood Development Directorate has introduced programmes focusing on the underlying socio-economic issues at play in dealing with substance abuse.”

She said this included substance awareness programmes at schools, intervention programmes for pupils between the ages of 13 and 21 who had started experimenting with substances, and foetal alcohol syndrome awareness programmes.

The Mercury