SA a nation of hard-drinkers, report shows

SOUTH Africans consume about five billion litres of alcohol a year equating to an average of 10l each per year – nearly a third more than the world average. And when we drink, we drink a lot, say experts.

Heroin use is highest in Mpumalanga and Limpopo, while alcohol abuse dominates in-patient centres in KwaZulu-Natal, the Northern Cape and the North West.

These statistics from Dr Lize Weich of the Stellenbosch University department of psychiatry were revealed ahead of Substance Awareness Week, which begins today.

"A study has shown that as many as 45.5% of South Africans 'binged' in the week leading up to the research survey. This is very high compared to the global average of 11.5%", said Weich, who is also a senior psychiatrist at Stikland Hospital which is responsible for the substance abuse programme of the Associated Psychiatric Hospitals in the Western Cape.

In South Africa, alcohol is the most commonly abused stimulant followed by dagga, heroin and methamphetamine (tik), according to the latest report of the South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use, a programme monitoring substance abuse trends recorded by drug and alcohol abuse treatment centres.

The Western Cape reported the highest number of methamphetamine use while cannabis was Gauteng's drug of choice.

According to Shaun Shelly, a programme manager at Cape Town's Hope House Counselling Centre, drug abuse in the Cape is pushing drug-related crime rates through the roof.

"The per capita ratio for drug-related crime in the province is four times greater than the national average with nine of the top 10 drug hotspots in the country being in the Western Cape," Shelly said.

Heroin use was highest in Mpumalanga and Limpopo, while alcohol abuse dominated in-patient centres in KwaZulu-Natal, the Northern Cape and the North West.

"Substance abuse impacts negatively on the physical, social, spiritual and mental wellbeing of the individual and society," Weich told Health-e News.

"We have the highest documented rate of foetal alcohol syndrome in the world (and) we have alarmingly high rates of high-risk sexual behaviour linked to substance abuse."

She added that a recent review of research found a causal link between heavy alcohol abuse, and active tuberculosis (TB) as well as the progression of both TB and HIV, which remain the leading causes of death in South Africa. – Wilma Stassen, Health-e News Service.