23 February 2007

Could you also be a new SA boozer?

Three cheers as we celebrate democracy. But the problem is that some South Africans have been drinking to it again and again and again. But don't despair – there's help at hand.

Three cheers as we celebrate democracy. But the problem is that some South Africans have been drinking to it again and again and again. But don't despair – there's also more help at hand.

Alcoholism is a bigger problem in South Africa than it used to be.

Booze is everywhere. There is a liquor outlet for every 191 people in South Africa. South Africans consume over 5 billion litres of alcoholic beverages per year, according to a report by the Medical Research Council (MRC). This boils down to a staggering 120 litres per person per year.

It is now estimated that between 10 and 15% of the population have an addiction problem. We now drink as much as the people in the United Kingdom and Belgium do.

Why are we drinking more?
Fast changes - from a restricted and overprotected society to a freer society – may be to blame, according to Dr Rudolph Otto, medical director of the Chemical Dependency Unit at the Crescent Clinic.

He sited the following changes as possible causes for the growing problem:

  • Reduced military and police presence after 1994, combined with fewer restrictions on drug lords and illegal liquor outlets. There were once real consequences for stepping out of line when under the influence of either alcohol or drugs or selling them illegally.
  • Greater availability of drugs and alcohol since our borders have opened.
  • The very fast and stressful rate of social and political change in the last decade. People moving from rural areas to cities are also exposed to job stress and materialistic values.
  • Younger children exposed to alcohol as the family structure crumbles. Family values appear to have become less important.

Many more rehabilitation centres
But it's not all bad news, as there is help at hand. There are also many more rehabilitation (rehab) centres and much more help available these days.

"A few decades ago rehab centres were almost unknown in South Africa,” says Dr Otto. "Now most of the bigger centres have several. There is still not enough specialised staff or treatment centres, but there's a lot more than there used to be.”

But choose help wisely. Real damage could be done by staff who are insufficiently trained or by centres that are not legally registered, it is a good idea to ask an organisation such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous for a recommendation to a rehab clinic.

Make sure that a rehab centre is registered with the health department in your province and ask about staff training and qualifications. Also enquire about success rates, availability of individual and family counselling and follow-up support, advises Dr Otto.

Successful rehab
Admitting to having an alcohol problem is the most difficult part of rehab for many people, as we live in a society where drinking is seen as acceptable, but a drinking problem is not.

In our society people’s general awareness of the problems surrounding drug and alcohol abuse is fairly low and prejudice with regards to alcoholism is rife. Society's perceptions are often that it is a 'dirty disease' and a sign of weakness. Very often alcoholics experience the same levels of discrimination as those who are HIV-positive.

Going for help is not always easy. But admitting the problem is the crucial first step on the way to successful rehabilitation. What are the others?

According to Dr Otto, a person with the following attitude or support has a much higher chance of beating alcoholism:

  • willingness to admit to the problem;
  • persistence;
  • willingness to deal with underlying emotional problems;
  • family support;
  • joining support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.

Could you be drinking too much?
Do you drink every day? Do you find that you tend to drink more when you are under stress? More than fifteen drinks a week for men and twelve for women should make warning lights start flashing.

Physical symptoms that you could be drinking too much may include nausea or vomiting, shaking in the morning, poor eating habits, stomach pain or cramps, diarrhoea, numbness or tingling, red eyes, face or palms, unsteady walking or falls, blacking out and medical problems getting worse.

Take a look at some of the signs below that your drinking may have got out of control.

Do you:

  • deny that you have a drinking problem, even if it's clear that you do?
  • become aggressive when confronted about your drinking?
  • drink alone and hide that from others?
  • have memory or concentration problems after drinking?
  • become irritated when there is no alcohol available?
  • find excuses to drink?
  • gulp down drinks or order doubles?
  • drink too much just to feel normal or function properly?
  • have problems with relationships, work or school, finances or the law?
  • promise repeatedly to stop drinking?
  • drink more and more earlier and earlier in the day?
  • undergo personality changes when drunk?
  • drive while drunk?
  • become violent towards yourself or others while drunk?

Have you answered yes to any of these questions? If so, do yourself and your family members a favour and pick up the telephone and get some help today. You are not alone.

Contact information
Alcoholics Anonymous

Johannesburg: (011) 436-0797
Cape Town: (021) 592-5047

Narcotics Anonymous Helpline
Johannesburg: (011) 485-5248
Cape Town: 0881-3003-27

- (Susan Erasmus, Health24)


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