South Africa's Binge Drinking Culture:

How much is too much?

August 29, 2013  |  By Oly Mtati, Cape Town, South Africa

South Africa's Binge Drinking Culture:

Photo : Donald Cook/

Binge drinking is a term used to describe the overconsumption of alcohol (generally five drinks for men and four for women)…more commonly known as getting drunk.

This is a huge problem in South Africa and shockingly the problem lies mostly with teenagers and even children. Nearly half of all South African learners have ‘used’ alcohol. A third of the learners in the Western Cape alone are binge drinkers, with some being as young as ten years.

Where did teenagers learn that drinking is the only way to have fun, or the only way to deal with life’s problems or that it’s even appropriate? Why would anyone pay to harm their bodies, minds and in extreme case their social relationships?

“We have a culture of drinking in South Africa and teenagers are a product of the society in which they live,” said Izabelle Little from Sea Point, Cape Town.

South African society has taught teenagers that life is short, so enjoy it by drinking yourself into a stupor; or put your woes on hold and enjoy yourself by having a drink. Some young people even believe that they earn respect, ‘street cred’ and popularity by drinking. The biggest trap facing young people, however, is peer pressure. Yes, the ever-present peer pressure. Often, teenagers say no, but the persistence of friends and the feeling of being left out leads them to the edge. Many teenagers feel as if drinking will somehow help them look and feel mature.

What teenagers don’t know or continue to ignore are the effects and consequences of binge drinking. Firstly there are the short term effects; vomiting, blackouts, fainting, dizziness and much more. The long term effects, however, are much more serious. Stomach ulcers, liver problems, cardiovascular disease and in extreme cases even death can be expected when you abuse alcohol over the long term.

Teenagers seem to think they are invincible; the only problem with this theory…no one is invincible. What young people don’t realise is that we are much more susceptible to the damaging effects of alcohol as our bodies are in development.

Is South Africa rearing the next generation of alcoholics and if so, what can we do about it? When it comes to public awareness campaigns and education, we as teenagers are far more receptive to shocking visuals as opposed to traditional means of education. Instead of speeches and presentations rather give us a kick in the shin (metaphor, please do not go around kicking people) to make the point more clearly.

Changing the hearts and minds of young people starts at home, continues at school and ends off at home again. We have to start thinking as one nation and uniting in our beliefs and values. Making the decision to change things is one step closer to changing them.

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Comments from our readers

Name :

Caro Smit

Comment :

I agree. Young people drink too much as many adults set a bad example,and "show" them that alcohol is a solution for dealing with stress,or the only way to celebrate. South Africans Against Drunk Driving- have DVD's to show the effects of deaths and injuries caused by drinking/drugging then driving/walking. SADD have developed Manuals on excessive alcohol use, and its effect n the body and mind- with 20 worksheets to help involved young people to learn about the bad effect, about drinking then driving- as well as looking at teaching ways to say NO! We have got these into 2 500 schools in KZN and WC.We are willing to assist get them into any schools/tertiary institutions that contact us. Caro Smit 033 3470103

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