Drinking – and dying – in South Africa

Drinking – and dying – in South AfricaExperts argue that sin taxes on harmful products like alcohol, tobacco and sugar could improve health and the flailing economy. File photo.

South Africans consume about ten litres of alcohol per year, drinking nearly a third more than the world average. And when we drink, we drink a lot, say experts.

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Heroin use was highest in Mpumalanga and Limpopo, while alcohol abuse dominated in-patient centres in KwaZulu-Natal, the Northern Cape and the North West.
Heroin use was highest in Mpumalanga and Limpopo, while alcohol abuse dominated in-patient centres in KwaZulu-Natal, the Northern Cape and the North West.

“A study showed that as many as 45.5 percent of South Africans ‘binged’ in the week leading up to the research survey – this is very high compared to global average of 11.5 percent,” said Stellenbosch University’s Department of Psychiatry’s Dr Lize Weich speaking ahead of Substance Abuse Awareness Week, which begins today, according to government.

Weich is also a senior psychiatrist at Stikland Hospital who is responsible for the substance abuse programme of the Associated Psychiatric Hospitals in the Western Cape.

Alcohol is the most commonly abused in the country, followed by cannabis (dagga), heroin, and methamphetamine (tik), according to the most recent report of the South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use, a nationwide programming monitoring substance abuse trends seen by drug and alcohol abuse treatment centres.

The Western Cape reported the highest number of methamphetamine use while cannabis was Gauteng’s drug of choice.

According to Shaun Shelly, a programme manager at Cape Town’s Hope House Counselling Centre, drug abuse in the Cape is pushing drug-related crime rates through the roof.

“The per capita ratio for drug-related crime in the province is four times greater than the national average with nine of the top 10 drug hotspots in the country being in the Western Cape,” Shelly said.

Heroin use was highest in Mpumalanga and Limpopo, while alcohol abuse dominated in-patient centres in KwaZulu-Natal, the Northern Cape and the North West.

“Substance abuse impacts negatively on the physical, social, spiritual and mental wellbeing of the individual and society,” Weich told Health-e News. “We have the highest documented rate of foetal alcohol syndrome in the world (and) we have alarmingly high rates of high-risk sexual behaviour linked to substance abuse.”

She added that a recent review of research found a causal link between heavy alcohol abuse, and active tuberculosis (TB) as well as the progression of both TB and HIV, which remain leading causes of death in South Africa. – Health-e News Service.

An edited version of this article first appeared in the 24 June edition of the Cape Times.