The Challenges of Staying Sober

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By Sue Nyamnjoh

Alcohol is a drug. Once the line is crossed from the stimulation experienced from drinking, and the effects of alcohol as a depressant become felt, loosened inhibitions turn into lost control. Alcohol is addictive and poisonous when taken in excess. 30% of South Africa’s population have an alcohol problem and over 58% of road accidents can be tied to alcohol. Why then is it not policed as heavily as other drugs if its effects have the ability to be so disastrous?

In all fairness, most countries including Mzanzi have implemented a drinking age and criminalised public intoxication as well as driving under the influence. In our consumption of media products, we come across many billboards and TV ads encouraging responsible drinking and each ad promoting alcohol is accompanied by words like “Not for Sale to Persons Under the Age of 18. Drink Responsibly” or “Alcohol Reduces Driving Ability. Don’t Drink and Drive” which we’ve all heard so many times we now know them by heart. However, as the level of the nation’s alcohol consumption and its adverse effects increase, I wonder if this socially conscious advertising is enough.

Moreover, when confronted with the high level of underage drinking in the country, one cannot help but question if these policies end up being effectively enforced. One in every two teenagers in South Africa consume alcohol. That’s half of the teenage population. Communities in Knysna and Mossel Bay have complained of liquor outlets and taverns making alcohol available to underage patrons. It seems that at the end of the day only money talks and the bottom line is what matters most.

South Africa’s problem with alcohol is known, as is evident from the proposed Liquor Amendment Bill drafted last year. The bill aimed to curb alcohol consumption and abuse by raising the legal drinking age to 21, restricting advertising of alcoholic beverages and tightening the conditions for obtaining a liquor licence, amongst other things. Given the country’s record with alcohol, one would think these measures would be welcomed with open arms. Yet the bill faced severe opposition mainly from smaller business owners who called the bill impracticable and complained it would hurt their bottom lines.

Here we go again with this bottom line. However, despite being quite a profitable and lucrative industry primarily concerned with its revenue stream, the alcohol business does do its bit to foster economic growth. The industry like any other generates jobs and sponsors numerous events such as various sports tournaments in South Africa. Ad revenue from the advertising of alcohol products amounted to 1.7 billion in 2012 alone. However, these ads resulted in close to R96 billion worth of alcohol being purchased in 2015. The same alcohol which leads to dependency and accounts for more than half of road accidents.

Alcoholism fosters capitalism, they go hand in hand. When you drink, you spend, you lose your inhibitions and you wake up with a lot less money than you started out with. Like any young adult over the legal drinking age, I’ve had my fair share of experiences with alcohol. I remember on a night out, I bumped into an old friend who ended up buying us drinks the whole night. And while I don’t doubt my friend’s generosity, I do have to acknowledge the role alcohol played in bringing it out.

If alcohol is a drug, then I’m a junkie, a hypocritical one at that. I belong to the 50% of people who drink alcohol. This piece was written in between sips of wine. However I am not enamoured by alcohol to the point that I do not see the real damage it does to society. The laws are in place, additional ones would be useful but ways to enforce the old ones must be brought forward before any new laws can do any good.


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