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Alcohol in South Africa

South Africa is among the top five countries in the world that have the highest consumption of absolute alcohol per drinker per year, the second highest category of harmful patterns of drinking and the highest category for past year heavy episodic drinking.

130 people die daily from alcohol related causes. While alcohol producers benefit substantially from their customers engaging in binge drinking, this behaviour places an enormous burden on the country.

In 2010, the Minister of Health proposed a ban on alcohol advertising to begin to address these issues.

Alcohol Consumption and its effects in South Africa

Although just over 60% of South Africans do not consume alcohol, research shows that people who do consume alcohol, do so in an unhealthy manner, with high levels of binge drinking. This gives rise to increased levels of health and social problems including high levels of interpersonal violence.  53% of fatal (Harris & Van Kneejerk 2002) and up to 73% of non-fatal (Plüddemann et al. 2004) interpersonal violence injuries tested positive for alcohol in urban areas of South Africa in 2001.

In 2004 the NIMSS recorded six male deaths due to interpersonal violence for every female death (Matzapoulos 2005). While it is clear that males are at a greater risk of being killed or injured they are also more frequently the perpetrators of violence directed at men, women and children. Race, poverty and social status play a role in escalating cases of alcohol abuse.

South Africa also has one of the highest rates of HIV in the world.  12.2% or 6.4million people, with over 400 000 new infections in 2012.   (HSRC National HIV Prevalence, Incidence and Behaviour Survey 2012). The association between alcohol and risky sexual behaviour has been well documented as people are less likely to practise safe sexual behaviour when under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol is more likely to affect judgement , sexual practise and your choice of partner at the time. Research conducted in a Pretoria township found a significant association between various measures of alcohol use (past month, frequency and problem use) and having multiple partners or sexual relations that were regretted in the past month.

Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) is prevalent in the country particularly in the Western Cape. 42% of farm workers were found to have drunk during pregnancy. In research conducted in the Western Cape the prevalence of FAS was found to be 46 per 1000 in 1997 and 75 per 1000 in 1999.

South Africans say that alcohol is now a social norm and have normalised alcohol. It is seen as a way to fit in particularly among the youth. The following are comments made in a formative research exercise conducted by the Soul City Institute – Understanding the role of alcohol in communities:

"We want to have fun and to relieve stress. We work so hard and we get worried about our assignments if we did well or not so that is how we distress by drinking"
 -- (Gauteng Province, urban-female aged 21-28)

"You will rock the world when you are drunk, you will feel you own the world"
 -- (GP Informal M16-21)

"Some of us are shy, when I am drunk my benefit is I am no longer shy to approach a girl"
 -- (Limpopo Province, rural, male, aged 28-40)

Among Grade 8 – 10 learners in Cape Town a significant association was found between past month use of alcohol and the number of days absent from school and repeating a grade. The odds of repeating a grade in school were found to be 60% higher for learners who consumed alcohol. As youth constitute the largest section of the population young people are key target markets for alcohol producers looking to recruit a new generation of loyal customers.