Alcohol Abuse in South Africa


"Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? Those who linger over wine, who go to the sample bowls of mixed wine. Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly!

In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper. Your eyes will see strange sights and your mind imagine confusing things. You will be like one sleeping on the high seas, lying on top of the rigging. 'They hit me', you will say, 'but I'm not hurt! They beat me, but I don't feel it! When will I wake up so I can find another drink?' " Proverbs 23:29-35

It is estimated that up to 30% of general hospital admissions in South Africa are directly or indirectly related to alcohol use.

A clinical assessment of general hospital admissions found alcohol to be a contributing factor in general trauma cases: in 38% of the admissions in the Cape metropolitan area and 49% in rural communities alcohol was found to be a contributing factor.

48% of trauma patients admitted to the casualty department of the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto on a Saturday night were found to be intoxicated.

Almost 80% of all assault patients - both male and female - presented at an urban hospital Trauma Unit in Cape Town were either found to be under the influence of alcohol or injured because of alcohol related violence. In another study, over 50% of non-natural deaths received at state mortuaries in Cape Town had high levels of blood alcohol concentrations. 58% of people fatally injured in train related trauma (who either fell from or walked in front of trains) in Cape Town had high blood alcohol concentrations.

60% of pedestrians involved in collision traumas on the road and then treated in a hospital trauma unit were found to have high blood alcohol concentrations.

Over 50% of those who had died by drowning in greater Cape Town, over a ten year period, were found to have high concentrations of alcohol in their blood.

One study found that the incidence of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) in Cape Town is 1 per 281 live births. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome occurs in infants born to women who drink heavily during pregnancy. Signs of this syndrome include mental retardation, poor motor co-ordination, hyper activity, facial abnormalities and malformation of organ systems. Amongst the poorer communities, the incidence of Fetal Alcohol effects are consistently high. The Medical Research Council's National Trauma Research Programme reports that 67% of domestic violence in the Cape Metropolitan area was alcohol related. In a study of women abused by their spouses, 69% identified alcohol/drug abuse as the main cause of conflict leading to the abuse.

76% of domestic violence in rural areas in the South-Western Cape was found to be alcohol related.

The National Institute of Crime Prevention and Reintegration of Offenders (NICRO) has reported that alcohol contributes substantially to the high incidence of crime in the country. Their study found that just under half of all male prisoners had consumed alcohol or drugs at the time of, or before committing, their most recent crime.

The Medical Research Council has found that alcohol has a negative effect on the business community due to absenteeism, poor productivity, high job turnover, interpersonal conflicts, injuries and damage to property. One study in the Orange Free State found that 20% of gold mine workers involved in occupational injuries had high concentrations of alcohol levels in their blood.

The Medical Research Council's National Trauma Research Programme has estimated that alcohol related costs associated with pedestrian trauma alone are in excess of $83 million per year. The Transport Ministry has estimated that motor vehicle collisions cost the country at least $1,5 billion per year and that at least 50% of these vehicle accidents are alcohol related. The economic costs associated with alcohol abuse in the work place are likely to be in excess of $1,7 billion (2% of the gross national product) per year.

The National Injury Surveillance System in its "Profile of Fatal and Non-fatal Injuries in South Africa" of May 2000, states that South Africa has "one of the highest per capita alcohol consumption in the world" and "more that three-quarters of homicides perpetrated with a sharp object are alcohol related". Approximately 40% of firearm and 58% of blunt instrument homicide victims have consumed alcohol prior to their fatal injury. Not only are those perpetrating the crimes likely to be under the influence of alcohol, but the victims also tend to have much higher alcohol levels as well.

What Does the Bible Say About Alcohol Abuse?

"Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise" Proverbs 20:1

"Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat." Proverbs 23:20

"Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap." Luke 21:34

"Let us behave decently, as in the day time, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy." Romans 13:13

"Nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor swindlers will inherit the Kingdom of God." 1 Corinthians 6:10

"It is better not to… drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall." Romans 14:21

"Woe to him who gives drink to his neighbours, pouring it from the wineskin till they are drunk, so that he can gaze on their naked bodies. You will be filled with shame instead of glory. Now it is your turn! Drink and be exposed! The cup from the Lord's right hand is coming around to you, and disgrace will cover your glory. The violence you have done… will overwhelm you and your destruction of animals will terrify you. For you have shed men's blood and you have destroyed lands and cities and everyone in them." Habakkuk 2:15-17

It is also noticeable that total abstinence from strong drink was required from the priests: "You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink… this is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come." Leviticus 10:9

"You must abstain from wine and other fermented drink…" Numbers 6:3

It is also mentioned in the book of Proverbs as a standard for rulers:

"It is not for kings,… not for kings to drink wine, not for rulers to crave beer." Proverbs 31:4

Two of the most exemplary characters in the Bible, Daniel and John the Baptist, were teetotallers:

"But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine…" Daniel 1:8

"For he would be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth." Luke 1:15

All Christians are commanded:

  • "Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead be filled with the Holy Spirit." Ephesians 5:18
  • "Woe to… drunkards… those laid low by wine!… drunkards will be trampled under foot… these also stagger from wine and reel from beer… are befuddled with wine; they reel from beer, they stagger when seeing visions, they stumble when rendering decisions. All the tables are covered with vomit and there is not a spot without filth" Isaiah 28:1-8
  • Deuteronomy 21:20 associates drunkenness with stubbornness, rebellion, gluttony and dishonour to parents.
  • Isaiah 28:7 associates drunkenness with Spiritual blindness and uselessness.
  • Isaiah 22:13 associates alcohol with a sense of hopelessness.
  • Isaiah 4:11 associates alcohol abuse with whoredom and deception:
  • "…they have deserted the Lord to give themselves to prostitution, to old wine and new, which take away the understanding of My people… a spirit of prostitution leads them astray; they are unfaithful to their God." Isaiah 4:10-12

Testimonies of Transformation

There are many tens of thousands of Christians worldwide who can testify to how alcohol ruined their life, but how the Lord Jesus Christ freed them from their addiction to alcohol, saved their marriage, restored their health and transformed their lives.

"He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds." Psalm 147:3

Our existential and hedonistic societies produce addicts at a faster rate than ever before in history. The reason for this is that our modern cultures have a "quick-fix", convenience orientated mentality. Our society stresses easy solutions. Our era suffers from values confusion and confused morals. Our culture is heavily orientated towards entertainment. Our culture suffers from disrupted family life. Many children grow up in fragmented, dysfunctional homes. There has been a tremendous loss of community. The average person moves home about every 3 years. Ours is a high stress culture and a very high anxiety and abusive society. In this existential and hedonistic environment, drug and alcohol addictions inevitably abound.

To those bound by addictions, whether to alcohol or drugs or anything else, the Lord Jesus is the One who sets the captives free:

  • "The Spirit of the Lord is on Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour." Luke 4:18-19
  • "And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" John 8:32
  • " Because through Christ Jesus the Law of the Spirit of Life set me free from the law of sin and death" Romans 8:2
  • "You my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love." Galatians 5:13
  • "Life as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover up for evil. Live as servants of God." 1 Peter2:16
  • "That they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will." 2 Timothy2:26
  • "So, if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." John 8:36

Dr Peter Hammond is the author of Putting Faith to Your Feet and Biblical Principles for Africa.

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