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Binge-drinking is a huge problem in SA, say researchers

One in seven adults in SA admit to being binge-drinkers‚ but researchers say the problem is likely to be much worse as people are inherently coy on reporting their alcohol consumption.

Based on admissions from the 2014 – 2015 National Income Dynamics Study, a nationally representative dataset of just over 20 000 individuals aged
≥15 years, University of Cape Town (UCT) economics researchers say 4.8-billion alcoholic drinks were consumed in 2014/15. But in the same period‚ the SA Revenue Service collected excise duties on four times as many drinks.

Their study found:

  • That current alcohol use (any amount) in 2014 – 2015 was reported by 33.1% of the population (47.7% males, 20.2% females).
  • Of drinkers, 43.0% reported binge drinking (48.2% males, 32.4% females). The prevalence of self-reported binge drinking — defined as five or more drinks a day — as a percentage of the total population was 14.1% (22.8% males, 6.4% females).
  • Although black African males and females were less likely than white males and females to report drinking any amount, they were more likely to report binge drinking. Coloured (mixed race) females were more likely than black African females to report drinking any amount.
  • Males and females who professed a religious affiliation were less likely than those who did not to report drinking any alcohol.
  • The prevalence of self-reported binge drinking was highest among males and females aged 25 – 34 years.
  • Smoking cigarettes substantially increased the likelihood of drinking any amount and of binge drinking for both genders.

Nicole Vellios and Corné van Walbeek‚ from UCT’s Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit‚ say the huge drinking problem revealed in their research strengthens the argument for “strong‚ evidence-based policies that reduce the detrimental effects of alcohol use”.

Writing in the January edition of the South African Medical Journal‚ they say: “The alcohol industry argues that it does not encourage harmful use of alcohol. Since a very large proportion of alcohol consumed in South Africa is consumed hazardously‚ with associated detrimental consequences‚ the … industry’s statements sound hollow‚ since they depend on these drinkers for profits.”

Journal editor, Bridget Farham, calls in an editorial for a crackdown on alcohol advertising‚ a measure also recommended in the National Liquor Policy Review tabled in 2016 by Trade and Industry Minister, Rob Davies.

Said Farham: “If we are going to ban advertising and sponsorship by tobacco companies‚ alcohol should be subject to the same scrutiny.

“The adverts for alcohol on television‚ in cinemas and on billboards‚ like those we used to see for tobacco‚ equate drinking alcohol with financial and social success — ironical in the face of the effect the substance has on many of those who drink it.”

The economists said while alcohol taxes were expected to total R20.8bn in 2016/17 and the alcohol industry was responsible for 3.9% of GDP (about R139bn)‚ the costs of drinking — including healthcare‚ road accidents‚ premature death and absenteeism — were 10%-12% of GDP (R356bn to R427bn).

“Binge-drinking reduction policies should focus on groups with a high prevalence of binge drinking: males‚ black Africans‚ individuals aged 25-34 and people living with partners‚” they said.

“There is very strong evidence that smokers are substantially more likely to binge drink than non-smokers … [so] measures that reduce smoking prevalence may have the additional benefit of reducing the prevalence of binge drinking.”

Source:; SAMJ

Journal Reference:

South African Medical Journal 2018;108(1):33-39. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2017.v108i1.12615
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