Alcohol Abuse & Dependence: The Facts

According to a 2011 World Health Organisation (WHO) report, South Africa has one of the highest alcohol consumption rates per capita in the world. 


This makes alcohol the drug of choice for most South Africans, and particularly amongst the youth of our country. Two of the main factors contributing to this, not so glamorous accolade, is the fact that alcohol is both relatively cheap and easily available.

The Facts about Alcohol Use in South Africa 

Below are a few statistics on the impact alcohol use, abuse and dependence has on our country:

Mortuary statistics (2002) – Medical Research Council / UNISA 

  • 46% of all non-natural deaths, nationally, had blood alcohol concentrations greater than or equal to 0.05g/100ml, i.e. the national legal limit for driving.
  • Alcohol levels were particularly high among transport-related deaths (e.g. motor vehicle accidents) and homicides (i.e. murder).

Trauma unit statistics (2001) – Medical Research Council 

  • 39% of trauma patients in Cape Town, Durban and PE had a breath alcohol concentration greater than or equal to 0.05g/100ml.
  • Levels of alcohol are often consistently high in transport and violence related injuries seen in the trauma unit.

Demand for specialist treatment services (2003) – Medical Research Council

  • 52% of cases treated at the 52 specialist substance abuse treatment centres in Cape Town, Durban, Gauteng, Mpumalanga & PE, gave alcohol as their primary drug of abuse, and an additional 13% stated it as their secondary drug of abuse.

Alcohol and unsafe sex practices (2003) – Medical Research Council 

  • Research conducted among persons aged 25 – 44 years of age found a significant correlation between various forms of alcohol use and having multiple sexual partners and relations.

Alcohol and family violence (2003) – Medical Research Council

  • Between a third and half of arrests made in Cape Town & Johannesburg for “family violence” involved the use of alcohol at the time of the alleged offence.

Academic failure & absenteeism (1997) – Medical Research Council / UCT

  • A significant correlation was found between the use of alcohol and the number of days absent from school & repeating a grade among Grade 8’s – 11’s in Cape Town.
  • The odds of repeating a grade at school has been found to be 60% higher for learners who consume alcohol.


Parry, C. (2008). Fact Sheet – Alcohol Use in South Africa. Retrieved from: [Accessed on: 22 April 2015].


The Physical and Social Cost of Alcohol Abuse

The excessive use of alcohol, be it in the form of heavy or binge drinking, over time can lead to the onset of a variety of health and social problems, as well as the development of chronic diseases and neurological impairments – these include but are not limited to:

  • Cardiovascular problems e.g. hypertension, cardiomyopathy (heart disease), myocardial infarction (heart attack)
  • Psychiatric problems e.g. depression and anxiety
  • Gastrointestinal problems e.g. gastritis and pancreatitis
  • Liver diseases e.g. cirrhosis and alcoholic hepatitis
  • Dementia, stroke and neuropathy
  • Increased risk of certain types of cancer e.g. liver, mouth, throat, voice box and oesophagus
  • Unintentional injury and death e.g. motor vehicle accidents, falls, drowning and firearm injuries
  • Social problems e.g. loss of productivity, family problems, violence, unemployment
  • Unsafe sexual practices and increased risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections 
  • Poor nutritional status which may lead to a compromised immune system, resulting in increased susceptibility to opportunistic infections 

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National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence. (2015). FAQs / Facts. Retrieved from: [Accessed on: 22 April 2015].

Parry, C. (2008). Fact Sheet – Alcohol Use in South Africa. Retrieved from:  [Accessed on: 22 April 2015].