Alcohol abuse hits SA hard

The burden experienced by South Africa from alcohol abuse affects every aspect of society, not just the abusers, research has found.

Long-term research conducted between 1997 and 2003 by the Foundation for Alcohol-Related Research (Farr) at Wits University found that among grade one learners in Wellington in the Western Cape the prevalence of fetal alcohol syndrome, a pattern of physical and mental defects caused by alcohol consumption during pregnancy, affected 46 out of 1 000 babies in 1997. This number rose to 75 babies in 1999. Similar research conducted in Gauteng in 2001 showed the syndrome affected 19 out of 1 000 babies. Research in De Aar in the Northern Cape the same year found 103 out of 1 000 were at risk, followed by a study in Upington two years later that had 75 out of 1 000 affected. A Farr survey carried out in Soweto revealed that 25 in every 1 000 seven-year-olds tested had a severe form of the syndrome. By comparison, surveys in the United States indicate a prevalence rate of only one or two in every 1 000 births.

High-school learners
A combined study between the Medical Research Council (MRC) of South Africa and the University of Cape Town in 1997 among grade eight and 11 learners in Cape Town found a significant link between their use of alcohol in the past month and the number of days they were absent from school or their risk of repeating a grade, which was found to be 60% higher for learners who consumed alcohol.

Family violence
Between one-third to a half of those arrested in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg, charged with offences categorised as “family violence”, reported being under the influence of alcohol at the time of the alleged offence, a 2000 MRC study found.

Unsafe sex
Research conducted by the MRC in 2003 in Atteridgeville between the ages of 25 and 44 found that there is a significant correlation between the quantity of alcohol consumed and the number of sexual partners the person would have in his or her lifetime.

Male-on-male violence
A 2001 study conducted by the MRC into trauma units found that in Cape Town, Durban and Port Elizabeth 39% of trauma patients had breath alcohol concentrations of 0.05g/100ml (the legal limit for driving) or higher. Levels of alcohol were particularly high for transport- and violence-related injuries. For example, 73% of patients with violence-related injuries in Port Elizabeth and 46% of patients with transport-related injuries in Cape Town had levels above 0.05g/100ml.

A 2003 MRC study found that of 5 886 persons treated at 52 specialist substance-abuse treatment centres in Cape Town, Durban, Gauteng, Mpumalanga and Port Elizabeth in the first half of 2003, 52% reported having alcohol as their primary drug of abuse, with a further 13% having alcohol as a secondary drug of abuse.

Grave danger
A 2002 study conducted by the MRC and Unisa found that in Cape Town, Durban, Gauteng and Port Elizabeth 45% of all non-natural deaths had blood alcohol concentrations of 0.05g/100ml or higher. Levels of alcohol were particularly high for transport-related deaths and homicides, with 63% of transport-related deaths and 69% of homicides in Port Elizabeth having levels above the legal limit for driving.

Source: Alcohol and Drug Abuse Research Group, Medical Research Council

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