Excessive alcohol use is behind the death in 80% of young South African men – the third-largest contributor to fatality and disability after sexually transmitted diseases, according to a latest study.
The research commissioned by the SA Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) and the DG Murray Trust has found that the socioeconomic costs of alcohol abuse are higher than previously thought.
Citing excessive alcohol consumption for the deaths in the SACBC’s report, Strengthening Communities Through Reducing Alcohol-Related Harms Project, researcher and associate professor of sociology at the University of Johannesburg, Kezia Batisai, said many previous surveys on the costs of alcohol only looked at “the direct economic impact, not at the social costs”.
The study suggested that the economic and social costs associated with alcohol abuse in South Africa were far higher than previously thought, with the burden outstripping the sector’s economic contribution and making alcohol “the most harmful drug at a population level” in some provinces.
Based on some of their feedback, the report has also found that tools and many existing interventions – including law enforcement and legislation – to prevent and reduce alcohol-related harm, were ineffective.
Despite the alcohol sector being a key player in the economy – with the wine value chain alone contributing R36 billion per year into the gross domestic product (GDP), while employing a third of a million people – social costs were huge.
Batisai said previous surveys on the costs of alcohol only looked at the direct economic impact, not at the social costs, with the 2003 study having estimated the economic impact of alcohol at R8.7 billion – exclusive of the social costs borne by drinkers and those affected by people’s drinking.
The social cost associated with alcohol was also linked to gender-based violence, sexual crime, the implications of unsafe sex, mental health issues and increasing levels of poverty.
“Alcohol is the most widespread drug of abuse in South Africa and the most harmful drug at a population level,” Batisai added.
She interviewed dozens of tavern owners and patrons in Klerksdorp and Port Elizabeth, as well as students at the Nelson Mandela and KwaZulu-Natal universities. When it came to help for drinkers who wanted to tackle their alcohol dependency, most patrons said they were aware of help forums but indicated little interest, due to social stigma.
About 80% of those polled in Klerksdorp said they knew about bylaws, but 64% said these did not help reduce alcohol-related harms, especially among minors.
“Some tavern owners like to do things as they wish, like having underaged children in taverns,” one respondent said. “Underage drinking does not matter at all. You find that during the day, a young boy in a full school uniform can get to a tavern and get a beer,” said another respondent.
In Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, patrons and tavern owners also noted a lack of implementation of noncompliance – with most taverns opening early and closing extremely late.
“In some cases, the police are the friends of the tavern owners, so they the owners are protected,” a Klerksdorp respondent said. Another respondent alleged police took bribes.