Under-age drinking is a big problem in South Africa and it is not rare for children as young as 11-years-old to have access to alcohol.
Alcohol is a killer
Due to the high rate of alcohol availability in South Africa, it is important that parents keep tracks of the whereabouts of youth.
Alcohol kills more people than HIV/Aids
Did you know that alcohol consumption caused more deaths than HIV/Aids during the time at which deaths caused by HIV/Aids was at a high?
In 2004, more than 2 million people died of causes that can be attributable to alcohol, including everything from accidents to diseases. The leading causes of alcohol related deaths were cirrhosis of the liver (373 900), traffic accidents (268 000) and other unintentional injuries (223 000).
Altogether this amounted to nearly 4% of global deaths which was higher that caused by HIV/Aids during the same year.
Alcohol is easily available in South Africa
Did you know that in South Africa, alcohol is easily available from bottle stores, supermarkets, bars, shebeens and other unlicensed liquor outlets?
On a disturbing note, these outnumber licenced outlets, particularly in vulnerable and financially disadvantaged communities.
While the legal age of drinking in the country is 18, most children will come into contact with alcohol at a much younger age and in some cases, as early as 11-years-old.
Children who are born to alcoholic parents are more likely to develop unhealthy drinking habits due to the parental example that they follow.
Many youth think that alcohol is cool because of celebrity influence
A lot of celebrities and sports stars glamorize excessive partying and heavy-spending.
People who idolize these people associate such things with positively without realizing the negative consequences that come as a result of living such lifestyles.
Another reason why youth engage in alcohol consumption on a regular basis is due to the positive associations which it receives from music videos as well as popular TV series, particular those which are of a western origin.
These productions tend to showcase the short-term positive experiences and feelings that arise out of alcohol consumption while they ignore the long-term and negative impacts. Subsequently many youth associate alcohol consumption with positivity and “being cool”.
As the South African youth media and celebrity media landscape is very much influenced by the western media world, this is also influencing the South African media landscape.
Youth need to be educated on the impacts on excessive drinking
It is important that youth are educated and aware of the impacts of irresponsible drinking as this could potentially save them from attaining a criminal record, serious injury, physical harm even death.
Other disturbing consequences include increased chances of engaging in unprotected sex, leading to greater chances of an unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease such as HIV/Aids.
Binge drinking refers to the act of consuming a lot of alcohol over a short period of time.
Youth drinking often does lead to binge drinking which is defined as drinking more than one unit in less than an hour span. The reason for this is peer-pressure or a desire to fit in, poor home environments, ignorance of alcohol awareness education and boredom.
High rates of youth unemployment and the cheapness and easy availability of alcohol should also be viewed as causes.
Physical changes that occur due to excessive binge drinking include injuries due to assaults or physical fights, appetite changes, weight loss, eczema, headaches and sexual assault.
Behavioural changes include sleeping problems, poor school, work or college performance, failure to form and maintain relationships, problems with depression and anger and a tendency to abuse other drugs.
Regular drinking can cause long-term concentration and memory problems. Women who drink excessively while pregnant can give birth to children with Fetal Alcohol syndrome which can include permanent mental and physical defects.
What are the consequences of heavy drinking
- Youth who drink excessively have increased chances of committing suicide as in the long run. Alcohol causes one to be more likely to act impulsively and act without thinking. The chances of unprotected sex, unnecessary brawls and being sick are hugely increased.
- According to the 2012 University of South Africa (UNISA) Youth Research Unit Substance Abuse Survey, a significant number of teenagers from the average South African home have experimented with alcohol even though their parents believe that they do not drink.
What you can do if you or someone you know has a drinking problem.
If you or someone whom you love are experiencing problems associated with excessive alcohol consumption, the following are steps which you could take or encourage them to take to remedy the situation.
1. Take up a hobby
Many people who engage in excessive alcohol consumption do so due to low self-confidence or boredom. Taking up a hobby for instance, a new sport or self-improvement.
2. Seek professional help
Below are some phone numbers which can be referred to for assistance if you or a loved one are suffering due to the negative impacts of alcohol abuse.
Alcoholics Anonymous SA National Helpline: (0861 435 722)
Narconon South Africa: (011 622-3998)
Alateen General Service Number: (021 595-4508)
LifeLine: (0861 322 322)
3. Create health family and friendship ties.
Creating strong ties with family and friends can increase a person’s sense of self-worth and if these ties are healthy, it will need to one aiming to improve at all times rather than go down the wrong path.