South Africa and its middle class alcoholics

2013-06-09 09:00

That daily glass of spirits you drink to unwind over dinner may seem harmless. Or even that bottle of wine you treat yourself to after getting stuck in traffic for two hours on the way home from work.

But people who drink casually every day may be more likely to become dependent on alcohol than binge drinkers, say researchers from the University of Sunderland in the United Kingdom.

The October 2012 study surveyed 49 middle class professionals aged between 21 and 55. Within all sampled focus groups, the study shows that “alcohol was seen as a reward after fulfilling work commitments and family obligations; and as a way to unwind, alleviate stress or socialise”.

One participant, a father of four, said: “I drink one because I’ve had a stressful day at work, two because I’ve had a stressful day at home.”

Neil Amoore, a clinical psychologist who deals with addiction, says alcohol is still the drug of choice in South Africa “by a long shot”.

He said: “People’s perceptions are skewed. They often tend to think of an alcoholic as someone who is homeless and gets up in the morning to brush their teeth with vodka, but the definition of an alcoholic is someone who drinks every single day.”

Alcohol is accessible because it is legal. It is also cheaper than other drugs.

A 2011 report by the World Health Organisation shows that South Africa has one of the highest rates of alcohol consumption in the world.

Recovering alcoholic Frank has been sober for 24 years and is the chairman of Alcoholics Anonymous in Joburg. He says anyone can be an alcoholic, regardless of their background or religion.

The UK study found evidence that white-collar workers consumed more alcohol – but that higher socioeconomic groups were often left out of research.

But in South Africa, Amoore says that alcoholism is equally common across all socioeconomic classes. For the middle classes, though, alcohol tends to be more available.

“The middle classes are more likely to socialise and come into contact with alcohol because they are able to afford it. It is part of their lifestyle,” he says.

The study showed that drinking at home was seen as normal, controlled and harmless, and drinkers tended to ignore alcohol’s harmful health effects. These include liver cancer, memory impairment, depression and increased risk of sexual dysfunction.

Dr Jo Viljoen of Clearview Clinic in Joburg says it is “socialised into people that alcohol is their friend”.

She further said: “I always ask my patients, do you have wine glasses? Do you have sherry glasses and beer glasses and champagne glasses? Who says you have to have all of those? Who made that rule? Alcohol is embedded in our culture and it stops people from thinking there might be a different way.”

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