Tag Archives: alcohol dependence

Alcohol Abuse & Dependence: Where To Get Help

It was previously believed that the human brain was fully developed by adolescence (12 – 18 years old), but in fact the brain continues developing well into the mid-20s, and possibly even the early 30s.


A lesser known fact relating to alcohol use and abuse is that the developing brain is especially vulnerable to alcohol’s toxic effects; resulting in younger users being at higher risk for poor long-term memory, cognitive impairment and poor executive functioning (i.e. reasoning, task flexibility, problem solving, planning & execution).  

The question then is: Where can a young person go to get help for a drinking problem?

Alcoholics Anonymous (South Africa)

“Alcoholics Anonymous is a voluntary, worldwide fellowship of men and women from all walks of life who meet together to attain and maintain sobriety. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. There are no dues or fees for A.A. membership.” – www.aa.org 

For more information on: what A.A. is, what A.A. does and does not do and a list of meeting venues and times please visit the A.A. South Africa website at: http://www.aasouthafrica.org.za/


South African National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependence (SANCA)

“SANCA operates eleven in-patient treatment centres for adults and four in-patient treatment centres for adolescents in the country. All 30 local SANCA centres render out-patient treatment programmes. The average duration of an in-patient treatment programme for adults is between 21 and 28 days. Out-patient treatment programmes range from early intervention, with a minimum of seven sessions to comprehensive out-patient treatment programmes lasting up to 16 weeks.” – www.sancanational.org 

For more information on SANCAs treatment programmes and centre contact details please visit the SANCA National Directorate website at: http://sancanational.org/

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Seggie, J. (2012). Alcohol and South Africa’s Youth. South African Medical Journal, 102(7), 587


Alcohol Abuse & Dependence: Signs & Symptoms

It is estimated that South Africans drink in excess of 5 billion litres of alcohol per annum; this equates to 9 – 10 litres of alcohol per person. 

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Alcohol use among the youth of South Africa is rife and increases with age for both males and females. The reasons for alcohol use and abuse range from a desire to fit in, peer pressure, boredom, poor home environment, the relative cheapness of alcohol, as well as it’s ease of access.

Alcohol Abuse vs. Alcohol Dependence

A distinction is made between alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence (or alcoholism). Alcohol abusers are thought to have some semblance of control over their alcohol intake and as such are able to set limits for themselves; this does not, however, mean that their drinking cannot or will not progress to more dangerous or dependent habits.

Alcohol dependence or alcoholism can develop gradually over time as a person’s alcohol tolerance increases. The risk of developing alcoholism is greater for those who partake in binge (a period of excessive or uncontrolled indulgence) drinking or who consume alcohol on a daily basis. Alternatively, alcohol dependence can develop relatively suddenly due to a genetic predisposition or family history of alcoholism, or stressful life events.

Signs & Symptoms of Alcohol Abuse 

Alcohol abuse refers to drinking habits that impact negatively on a person’s personal, interpersonal and work/school relationships and environments.

Signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse include, but are not limited to:

  • Drinking as a stress reliever – For many the use of alcohol to de-stress is the beginning of a downward spiral; the reason for this being that alcohol is a sedative, meaning that over time a person needs to consume more of it in order for it to have the same effect it initially had. 
  • Repeated neglect of responsibilities – Either because of drinking or the effects of drinking (i.e. suffering from a hang over) responsibilities at home, school or work are neglected e.g. poor work performance, poor or failing grades, absenteeism etc.
  • Alcohol use and poor judgement – Alcohol use impairs a person’s judgement and physical responses resulting in poor and dangerous decision making such as drinking and driving, drinking and having sex, mixing alcohol with medication, drinking in unsafe areas or neighbourhoods.
  • Drinking despite relationship problems – Continuing to drink despite the fact that your alcohol consumption is resulting in relationship problems at home, with friends and at work / school.
  • Legal problems due to drinking – Drinking patterns resulting in repeated legal problems such as: getting arrested for drunken driving, getting involved in drunken fights, domestic violence, drunk and disorderly conduct. 

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 Signs & Symptoms of Alcohol Dependence

In addition to the signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse, alcoholism includes three additional aspects: tolerance, physical dependence and withdrawal.

  • Tolerance – refers to the need for increased amounts of alcohol in order for it to have the same effect. Signs of increased tolerance include: consuming more alcohol than other people without show signs of intoxication; drinking more than you used to.
  • Lack of control – drinking more than you intended and / or for longer than you intended despite telling yourself or others that you wouldn’t.
  • Inability to stop – you have the desire to cut down or stop drinking alcohol but all efforts either to stop or to stay sober fail.
  • Pre-occupation with drinking – you spend increasing less time doing things that used to interest you as a result of your drinking; you spend an increasing amount of time drinking, thinking about drinking or recovering from the effects of drinking. 
  • Withdrawal – you experience withdrawal symptoms as the alcohol wears off and you sober up, e.g. shakiness, anxiety, sweating, trembling, vomiting, nausea, insomnia, irritability, depression, loss of appetite and headaches. Drinking in order to relieve or avoid these symptoms is a sign of alcohol dependence.


Ideo. (2009). Laboratory Posters for Eli Lilly and Company: Inspiring scientists to be more patient-sensitive. Retrieved from: http://www.ideo.com/work/laboratory-posters [Accessed on: 22 April 2015].

National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. (2015). Signs and Symptoms. Retrieved from: https://ncadd.org/learn-about-alcohol/signs-and-symptoms [Accessed on: 22 April 2015].

NYC Department of Healthy and Mental Hygiene. (2011). New Health Department Subway Poster Campaign Illustrates Dangers of Excessive Drinking. Retrieved from: http://www.nyc.gov/html/doh/html/pr2011/pr032-11.shtml  [Accessed on: 22 April 2015].

Seggie, J. (2012). Alcohol and South Africa’s Youth. South African Medical Journal, 102(7), 587

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:  http://www.sahealthinfo.co.za/admodule/alcohol.htm [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: https://ncadd.org/learn-about-alcohol/faqsfacts [Accessed on: 22 April 2015].

Parry, C. (2008). Fact Sheet – Alcohol Use in South Africa. Retrieved from:  http://www.sahealthinfo.co.za/admodule/alcohol.htm  [Accessed on: 22 April 2015].