The season to be merry is around the corner and with it comes indulgence in food and substances which might be harmful to one’s health if not consumed in moderation.
For many, this is the perfect time to drink without feeling an ounce of guilt or worrying about being hungover at the office the following day.
While alcohol is an element of refreshment and relaxation for some, its excessive use may lead to far more dire consequences. Last year, during lockdown alert level 5, experts noted that the number of casualties reported at various hospitals across the country decreased after the sale of alcohol was banned, and increased drastically after the alcohol ban was lifted.
According to an article by the International Society of Substance Use Professionals (ISSUP), alcohol remains the primary substance of abuse in South Africa, with between 7.5% and 31.5% of the population having an alcohol-dependency problem or are at risk of developing one.
According to the article, the per capita consumption of alcohol in South Africa is 11 litres, and this is considered the highest in Africa.
Generally, alcohol consumption affects people in various ways – psychologically, socially, economically and, most importantly, health-wise. General practitioner Dr Angelique Coetzee said excessive consumption increases the chances of obesity since alcohol contains a lot of calories.
“The first thing is it will increase obesity, except in those patients that when they drink they don't eat. It (alcohol) increases your weight because alcohol has got a toxic effect on the pancreas and the liver. You can get liver cancer, get diabetes and you can get acute inflammation of the pancreas that can also lead in the long term to chronic pancreatitis or pancreas carcinoma,” explained Coetzee.
Prof. Anthony Meyers, chairperson of the National Kidney Foundation of South Africa (NKFSA), said alcohol tolerance differs from person to person; however, it does not exempt one from the health implications as it has a direct impact on the kidneys.
“The effect of alcohol on the liver is twofold. Firstly, in chronic excessive quantities (by this is not meant an alcoholic person), alcohol is the commonest producer of cirrhosis of the liver and liver failure. Secondly, because of poor dietary and lifestyle habits (ingestion of excess fat in the diet), some people develop a fatty liver which can also cause cirrhosis and liver failure,” said Meyers.
Another thing that society may be oblivious to is that alcohol affects other significant aspects of their lives, such as family and work relationships.
Psychiatrist Dr Hemant Nowbath said the excessive use of alcohol may result in risk-taking behaviour. Alcohol abuse can also lead to psychosis and mental illness.
He added that if someone drank heavily and they stopped abruptly, they could have withdrawal symptoms such as cravings, which can cause hallucinations.