Pretoria - South Africa is among countries that have high levels of alcohol consumption and people at high risk of developing a related disorder and addiction.
And alcohol consumption is more common among men than women, with 16% of men reporting signs of problem drinking against 3% of women.
This is contained in the National Drug Master Plan 2019 to 2024, conceived by the Department of Social Development.
People who consumed high levels of alcohol were more likely to engage in behaviour such as drinking and driving and risky sexual behaviour, which also contributes to gender-based violence, according to the study.
“The consumption of alcohol does not only contribute to risky behaviours, but contributes to health issues.”
According to Affinity Health, long-term abuse of alcohol increases the risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, cancer, liver disease and digestive problems.
Heavy drinking can also lead to other health issues such as dementia, depression and foetal alcohol syndrome, a condition that affects children whose mothers drank alcohol during their pregnancy.
“When any alcohol enters a pregnant woman’s bloodstream, it passes through the placental tissue that separates the baby’s blood systems from hers, and directly to the foetus’s growing tissues.”
This means that if a pregnant mother drinks alcohol, her unborn child will as well.
The alcohol is completely absorbed by the foetus, and causes irreversible brain damage.
The Western Cape has one the highest cases of foetal alcohol syndrome compared to the other provinces.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said the global prevalence of foetal alcohol spectrum disorders, a group of conditions that can occur in a person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy, is expected to be around 1%.
South Africa has the world’s highest documented prevalence rates of these disorders – as high as 28% in some areas.
The detrimental effects of alcohol on the foetus can occur at any stage of pregnancy and are not limited to a specific stage.
However, mothers who drink during the first trimester also have an increased risk of a lower birth-weight baby and pre-term birth.
There are many factors that contribute to alcohol addiction, including having pre-existing substance use disorders, traumatic events and stress, family relationship troubles, peer pressure, or having a family member who has been diagnosed with a substance use problem.
“One can know that they have a problem if they have tried and failed to cut back or stop drinking, they crave alcohol more than anything else, alcohol is causing them problems in work, school, or home, they keep drinking even if it harms you or your relationships. You experience withdrawal symptoms after sobering up (such as trouble sleeping, anxiety, shakiness),” the WHO said.
There are individuals who do admit to having an alcohol problem, and who seek help to deal with the addiction. However, some find themselves back in the dark hole once again.
According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, the most common cause of relapse for former addicts is withdrawal.
“Many individuals relapse within the first week of stopping their substance use in order to avoid withdrawal symptoms, or thereafter due to post-acute withdrawal symptoms which can last for up to six to 18 months.”
People are advised to seek help if they have a drug addiction problem as there are rehabilitation centres that are equipped and trained to help with this.
Alternatively, they can look up for organisations in their communities that help with drug addiction or ask their family members for assistance.