A nip to numb the pain

Clinical psychologist Dr Lou-Marie Kruger says South Africans drink to self-medicate.

“As a nation we self-medicate on a large scale, and our drug of choice is alcohol. It’s completely pervasive on all levels of our society. It’s cheap and all classes and all races do it.”

The only difference between us, says Kruger, is our choice of “medicine”.

“If you’re poor, you medicate on papsak; if you’re rich, you drink Springfield Whole Berry Cabernet Sauvignon.”

Kruger, who has worked as a psychotherapist for 15 years and deals with alcoholism on a daily basis in the Stellenbosch area among the lower-income-patients she treats, believes we drink specifically to dull the pain of living here and, more universally, “to escape the world we’re in”.

“Poor people as well as rich people, whites as well as blacks, drink to escape. The worker drinks because he is treated badly at work. He earns a bad salary and tomorrow morning he has to go back and the next day and the next. Every day, that man feels, it’s the same meaningless shit he has to go back to.”

The Sauvignon crowd is no less unhappy, but often drink because of their immediate circumstances and because of the relationships they find themselves in.

For instance, says Kruger, “the middle-class wife is married to a man who can’t talk about his emotions. She feels he never talks to her about anything meaningful and then she drinks because tomorrow they will still not talk to each other about what’s really important.”

Kruger, who lectures at Stellenbosch University in psychology and runs a rural clinic giving people psychological treatment, says it’s been her professional experience that “we drink more than most other Western nations and we drink differently from other nations.

“The Americans battle with binge-drinking and the Dutch battle with issues around their youth, drinking themselves into comas. Here we have two categories of drinkers: Daily drinkers, usually older and middle-class; and then the poorer and younger people, who tend to drink twice a week, but then drink themselves into a paralytic state.”

The problem with alcohol abuse is that it implicates the ruling and chattering classes, from big business to suburbia. Therefore, says Kruger, it’s easier to talk about the devastating effects of cocaine or tik on society, because these drugs seem to be part of some faraway “other”.

“But if we talk about alcohol, we implicate everybody.”

Diagnosing a disorder: You are an alcoholic when …

Any three of these behaviours point to dependence:

  • A markedly increased amount of alcohol is needed to get drunk and drinking the same amount has less of an effect.
  • You suffer from withdrawal when you don’t have a drink.
  • Alcohol is taken in larger amounts and over longer periods than was intended.
  • There are unsuccessful efforts or a persistent desire to cut down or control the intake of alcohol.
  • A great deal of time is spent getting alcohol, drinking it and recovering from it.
  • Important social, occupational or recreational activities are given up or reduced because you¹d rather spend the time drinking.
  • Excessive use of alcohol continues despite knowing about adverse effects.
  • Source: American Psychiatric Association

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