Western Cape’s citizens drinking themselves into an early grave

Cape Argus
30 January, 2017
Lester September
co-ordinator: Liquor Licence and Anti-Substance Abuse Portfolio
The Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance

THE World Health Organisation reports that South Africa tops the global list for drunken driving-related deaths. After Cape Town’s switching on of the festive lights on Sunday, December 4, there were a number of media reports of alcohol-related disorderly conduct, two murders, six robberies. Throughout the night, 40 people were admitted to the New Somerset Hospital in Green Point to be treated for injuries.

Holiday road death tolls and arrests for drunken driving spike over the holiday periods, with close to 200 drivers arrested since the start of the 2016 festive season in the Western Cape, while 12 407 bottles of alcohol were seized on Cape Town beaches during the festive season.

The Western Cape has one of the highest rates of alcohol dependency and abuse in the world.

During the “16 days of Activism against Women and Child Abuse”, it was revealed that most abuse took place in a domestic setting, and was linked to alcohol abuse.

Under-age drinking is an increasing problem, while social workers from the Western Cape Social Development Department are not proactively engaging problem households. Underage drinking is more prevalent during the holidays, which leads to impaired brain development.

Crime stats show Saturday is the most violent day of the week, followed by Friday, where alcohol plays a big role. However, UK charity, Drinkaware.co.uk, warns that drinking every day, or more than the recommended guidelines for men and women on any day, will result in a highbody alcohol concentration (BAC) by the end of the week.

Alcohol abuse is linked to numerous lifestyle diseases, from stroke to heart disease and diabetes. It is also known to cause sleep deprivation. A night-cap knocks you out but can also wake you up, where it boosts slow-wave sleep, allowing you to sleep deeply at first.

As alcohol is a sedative, it suppresses dreaming. However, after it’s metabolised your brain wakes up, causing fragmented sleep and nightmares. A study from the University of Michigan Alcohol Research Center found that heavy drinkers sleep less than non-drinkers, which leads to lack of work productivity and illness.

To avoid sleep deprivation, you need to give your body time to metabolise the alcohol before bed, with health practitioners recommending an hour per drink and sleep.

Alcohol is broken down in the body at a rate of 0.016% an hour through an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase. It doesn’t matter how tall or big you are, or if you drank red wine or witblits. Once your BAC reaches a certain level, your body needs time to break the alcohol down and remove it from your system.

Alcohol dehydrogenase is like a one-lane tunnel; no matter how many alcohol molecules are waiting to get through the enzyme, only one can go through at a time. The more you drink, the more molecules are waiting to “get through” the enzyme.

In the study of alcohol and violence, the anxiolysis-disinhibition theory (aka “Dutch courage”) argues that anxiety normally results in the suppression of socially unacceptable behaviours such as aggression, but that cognitive disruptions produced by drinking affect our sensitivity to perceived threats in a social situation, where this reduced anxiety makes us less likely to suppress aggressive responses.

This results in the overreaction to perceived threats in an irrational manner, or where people take dangerous chances which they would not normally consider when sober.

Legally, however, you cannot claim to have been drunk as a defence – if you harm anyone or damage anything while intoxicated, our courts state that you should have known before you drank that you would get drunk.

As a solution, the World Health Organisation recommends reducing availability of alcohol. However, the City of Cape Town has been extending liquor trading hours intermittently since 2012.

Any such inclinations must be avoided in the future, as studies and analysis of data of the UK’s liquor laws highlights that violence took place later and in fact increased, in comparison to that which was normally evident between 3am and 6am, after the relaxation of liquor trading hours. From the 10 qualifying studies conducted, increasing hours of sale by two or more hours increased alcohol-related harms.

Disallowing extensions of hours together with policies decreasing hours of sale is an effective strategy in reducing availability, and thus preventing alcohol-related harms. The SAPS and municipal police must step-up their clampdown on illegal liquor outlets.

It is advised to drink in moderation and not in excess. Professor Charles Parry, a director at the Medical Research Council of South Africa, recommends low-risk drinking guidelines where a woman should not drink more than about seven standard drinks a week, and a man should drink less than 12 standard drinks a week.

However, spacing alcohol consumption over the week is also important, with Parry advising that people need three to four alcohol-free days a week. The National Health Department’s 2004 Food-Based Dietary Guidelines notes that a standard drink is equivalent to a 120ml glass of wine, a 340ml bottle/can of beer and a 25ml tot of spirits.

Also note that during a single occasion, men should not drink more than three standard drinks, and no more than two-and-a-half on any day for women.

Also, spacing drinking during this time to not less than three to six hours, is important. At no stage, however, should you be drinking and driving. Rather arrange for a driver or a taxi.

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