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Alcohol – friend or foe?

An honest view on our relationship with alcohol

“A glass of wine has the same effects as a gym workout.” …“Moderate consumption of wine or beer is beneficial for your cardiovascular health.” We have all read these statements and some of us might have nodded gleefully. We are not, however, always honest with ourselves when it comes to the question ‘what is moderate?’.

How much is moderate and how much is binge or heavy drinking

National and international institutions agree that moderate drinking for women or adults over 65 is one or less drink per day and two or fewer drinks for men. One drink is equivalent to 340ml beer, 120ml wine, 60ml sherry or 25ml spirits.

Your general health profile also determines how much ‘moderate’ means for you. If you have, for example, a chronic condition, your organs are already taking strain. Don’t add more stress to your body by exposing yourself to too much alcohol. If you have a family history of alcoholism you are at greater risk of alcohol abuse and should always keep that in mind. We don’t need to mention that if you are pregnant, have an existing liver condition, are a recovering alcoholic or are on certain medication you shouldn’t even think about drinking alcohol.

Experts speak about binge drinking as ‘the consumption of an excessive amount of alcohol in a short period of time’; loosely translated, in a 2-hour period a woman consumes 4 or more and a man 5 or more drinks. Heavy drinking is defined as having eight or more drinks over the course of one week, that is one and a quarter bottles of wine over a week. Be honest with yourself and evaluate your relationship with alcohol and how much is too much.

Social and cultural acceptance

Advertisers would have us believe that drinking alcohol is a sign of success, wealth and happiness. In most cultures all over the world, celebrations like weddings, birthdays and religious occasions can’t be imagined without alcohol. But still, some countries have a bigger alcohol ‘problem’ than others and South Africa doesn’t have the best reputation.

Looking back ten years or more, nobody intervened if you had a few glasses and then drove home – as long as you could stagger to your car you were considered ‘fit-to-drive’. It was already illegal then – the law did not change. The social perception, thankfully, is changing and today there is no excuse for driving a car if you have been drinking alcohol – we now have Uber and other driving services.

"SA has drunk status, and we're afraid to admit it" was a headline in the TimesLIVE just over a year ago. Strangely, it is still pretty much acceptable to get drunk or to have a hangover the next day. We even have our own South African vocabulary. Babalas, Phuza Thursday, beer boep … but should this be part of our culture?

In other countries, Italy for example – a country with declining alcohol consumption over the last few decades – it is completely acceptable to have a glass of wine, or two, with lunch or dinner. It is a part of a civilised alcohol culture. But if you drink more than you can metabolise and even get ‘tipsy’, people judge you and would prefer to avoid your presence. As South Africans are learning to be more responsible and not to drive under the influence, hopefully we will also adjust our view on moderate versus excessive drinking.

The consequences of alcohol abuse

You don’t have to be an alcoholic to risk damaging your health. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa, drinking too much alcohol can damage your heart, result in high blood pressure, and can cause increased levels of triglycerides (a type of fat) in the blood. Alcohol can give rise to certain types of cancer and neurological

disorders, which may become irreversible over time. Excessive drinking and binge drinking can lead to dehydration, seizures and even strokes. Alcohol contributes significantly to weight gain as it is often high in sugar and kilojoules. We all know the dangers of being overweight.

From a mental health and behavioural point of view, memory loss, depression, mental illness and brain damage, as well as violent behaviour, are further possible consequences of alcohol abuse. Not to mention injuries and road accidents or weekends in jail. If you need help assessing your relationship with alcohol speak to your GP or contact an organisation such as Alcoholics Anonymous South Africa (AA) or one of the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (SANCA) centres in your area. SANCA is our Designated Service Provider

for the admission and treatment of alcohol and drug abuse.

Enjoy, don’t abuse yourself or others, and keep a close watch on the volume. Down a big glass of water before you start your glass of wine.

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