Namibians drown in liquor

Namibia is one of the booziest nations on earth, with a devastating impact on social problems, crime and car accidents.

07 September 2018 | Social Issues

About of half of Namibian men are drinkers, the latest statistics on alcohol consumption in Namibia show.

A total of 37% of the Namibian population regularly consume alcohol, the majority being men, who on average have more than three and a half drinks a day.

This is more than the global average of slightly more than two drinks a day for men.

These were the findings of the largest and most detailed research that has been carried out on global alcohol consumption and its effects.

The Global Burden of Diseases study, a project based at the University of Washington, produces the most comprehensive data on the causes of illness and death in the world.

The study found that since independence Namibia's drinking problems have only got worse, especially among men. In 1990 the total number of drinkers stood at 33%, comprised of 27% of women and 39% of men.

By 2016 the percentage of female drinkers in Namibia stood at 28%, with women on average drinking about one and a half drinks a day, compared to the global average of 0.74.

According to the report, alcohol was responsible for 2.6% of deaths among Namibian women during 2016.

In the 15 to 19 age group, 19% of women are drinkers, compared to 42% of women aged between 35 and 44, and 41.5% of women aged 60 to 64. About 38.5% of women in their twenties drink, having on average three drinks per day.

The statistics for men show that 46% of Namibians were drinkers in 2016, consuming 3.6 drinks daily. Alcohol accounted for 8.9% of deaths among men.

In the 15 to 19 age group 35% of men drink, while 68% of men aged between 35 and 44 are drinkers, and 61% of men aged 60 to 64.

Men in their twenties are the heaviest drinkers. About 70.5% of them have on average about seven drinks every day.

The report indicates that 43% of the total alcohol stock in Namibia is estimated to be unrecorded.

Among other African countries, 18% of women in Botswana are drinkers, consuming 1.4 drinks per day, while 35% of men drink and they consume an average of 3.2 drinks a day.

In South Africa 23% of women are drinkers and they consume two drinks daily, while 33% of men in South Africa drink, having 2.7 drinks a day.

Last year Namibia was ranked as one of the booziest nations in the world.

Namibia was ranked as the 18th highest per capita consumer of alcohol globally. Statistics indicated that Namibians consumed 11.8 litres of pure alcohol per person a year.

Namibia was also the highest consumer of alcohol in Africa, tying with Uganda.

Charlene Husselman, the program manager for gender issues at LifeLine/ChildLine Namibia, told Namibian Sun that one of the impacts of alcohol abuse in Namibia is an increase in violent crime, as many individuals resort to crime to maintain their drinking habit.

“Often a lot of assaults and murders happen due to intoxication of those involved in the assaults and murders. The breakdown of the family is of concern as many individuals within families suffer the consequences of a family member being an alcoholic.”

According to Husselman the socio-economic status of such families is unstable, as alcoholics use most of their income to support their drinking habit, which causes marital strife, abuse and health problems.

“We also find that in many cases alcohol abuse often leads to suicide as many individuals who drink often suffer from mental health problems and physical health problems due to their drinking. Often a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness develops, as alcohol abuse can lead the individual to consider suicide as they can feel like a burden to their loved ones.”

Husselman further says that socio-economic stress and the current financial crisis in Namibia have caused a lot of Namibians to turn to drinking as a coping mechanism.

She says access to alcohol due to minimal regulation leads to drinking at an early age.

“Furthermore, we find that alcohol consumption among teens and children increases the likelihood of addiction in adulthood. Instability within an individual's life socially, economically and emotionally can also lead to an increase of drinking. Untreated mental health problems can also be seen as a leading cause of alcohol abuse if not treated immediately and correctly.”

Husselman further explains that alcohol is a coping mechanism for many people who do not have the necessary emotional and mental skills to deal with the conflict they experience in their lives.

She believes that counselling individuals and teaching them coping skills would help them to better process feelings such as anger, resentment, rejection, hopelessness, helplessness and loss and express them in a healthy manner.

She says it is important for those struggling with alcohol abuse to understand that there is a way out of alcohol addiction, and there are support groups to help them.

The research report, which was published in the Lancet medical journal, says alcohol led to 2.8 million deaths in 2016. It was the leading risk factor for premature mortality and disability in the 15 to 49 age group, accounting for 20% of deaths.

The report investigated levels of alcohol consumption in 195 countries between 1990 and 2016. They used data from 694 studies to work out how common drinking was, and from 592 studies including 28 million people worldwide to work out the health risks.

The study warns of the health risks posed by alcohol and says there is no safe limit of alcohol consumption.

It states that even one drink a day can slightly increase the chances of contracting 23 alcohol-related health problems.

Moderate drinking has been condoned for years on the assumption that there are some health benefits. A glass of red wine a day has long been said to be good for the heart.

“But although the researchers did find low levels of drinking offered some protection from heart disease, and possibly from diabetes and stroke, the benefits were far outweighed by alcohol's harmful effects,” the researchers say.

Drinking alcohol is a big cause of cancer in the over-50s, particularly women. The study found that globally, 27.1% of cancer deaths in women and 18.9% in men over 50 were linked to their drinking habits.

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