You don’t have to be an alcoholic to have a drinking problem, writes Marchelle Abrahams.

It's midweek. You’ve just put the children to bed and now you’re relaxing with your third glass of wine, watching your favourite TV series.

Sure, you’ve finished two bottles of wine on your own in the past few days, but who’s counting? Drinking is your release and helps you let go of the stress of the day.

South Africa is one of the top 20 alcohol-consuming nations, according to the World Health Organisation. We’re a nation that includes alcohol in almost every social aspect of our lives. Braaiing? Have a beer. Watching the rugby? Pour the okes a drink.

Some big sporting events are sponsored by huge alcohol brands, along with our national teams.

Mass media have taken to glamourising alcohol as something to consume if you want to appear stylish.

The Chicago Tribune’s Ben Bowman wrote an article in 2015 on the depiction of alcohol in relation to fictional characters.

“Olivia Pope drinks way too much wine.” This was the observation of Dr John Franklin of the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University while speaking about Kerry Washington’s character in the ABC drama Scandal, known as The Fixer in South Africa. In Pope’s case, a “nightly rendezvous with a bottle of red wine” is a way of dealing with her inner demons.

The general perception of an alcoholic is someone who slurs their speech, shows up late for work with a hangover or falls around when they’ve had too much to drink.

But put a face to an almost alcoholic and most will be stumped to know it could be your work colleague, neighbour or even yourself.

There’s no true definition of what an almost alcoholic is. Somehow it falls into the grey area of problem drinking. But clinical psychologist Neil Amoore refuses to use this label and instead chooses to refer to it as a problematic drinking pattern.

The director of Substance Abuse Network South Africa, with more than 20 years’ experience in addiction treatment, says there are three factors to take into consideration when diagnosing if someone has a drinking problem: pattern, frequency and volume.

Volume

According to Amoore, South Africa follows the WHO measurements for alcohol units.

One alcohol unit is measured as 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol. This equals one 25ml single measure of spirits, a third of a pint of beer or half a standard (175ml) glass of wine.

Moderate levels of under-65 males are able to consume two units of alcohol, while the limit for females is one unit. For over-65s it drops to half a unit.

“A significant portion of the population could be diagnosed as almost alcoholics,” Amoore says. But the difference between them and alcoholics is that not many people talk about it.

“There is concern that alcohol consumption is not viewed as problematic; it’s seen as part of our culture, and that needs to change,” he warns.

Pattern

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a drink occasionally, but if you’re a man consuming two units at a single sitting regularly, “then that’s a problem”.

Eventually you’ll see a pattern, and here’s where Amoore says many people take the denial route.

“They’ll list the advantages of drinking wine, like reducing hypertension, But there are other ways of improving well-being.”

People may drink for various reasons, such as taking the edge off the day, and here is where he gets candid. “You should ask yourself: ‘Am I addressing the need that’s creating the stress?’”

Frequency

Alcohol remains the biggest drug of abuse. “It’s a psychoactive substance that impairs functions. Yet no accurate statistics are gathered,” says Amoore.

He believes most drinkers don’t consider they even have a problem, but the frequency of how often they consume a drink could raise red flags.

The last word

Inadvertently, Amoore has seen a significant number of patients being diagnosed with depression and bipolar with higher-than-normal alcohol consumption. “GPs are bumping into problems where patients have hypertension, making it even worse.”

But many alcoholic cases are rarely reported “because the vast majority don’t think they have a problem”.

People need to know that their problematic drinking pattern is something they can own without being judged.

“Addiction is a medical condition, and we need to treat people with dignity and look at the best treatment options available to them,” says Amoore.

Helpful info

Toll-free substance abuse helpline: 0800121314

SADAG: http://www.sadag.org/

Alcoholics Anonymous: http://www.aasouthafrica.org.za/