Data released recently by the World Health Organization shows that South African consumers of alcohol are some of the heaviest drinkers in the world, despite relatively high levels of abstinence in the population.
The WHO’s most recent data tracked levels of alcohol consumption in 2016, showing that an estimated 31% of the population aged 15 and older consume alcohol, with the majority (69%) abstaining from drinking for at least 12 months.
While the majority of the adult population are not big on alcohol, the third of the population who are drinkers, are heavy on it.
According to the WHO’s data, South Africa’s drinking population consumers 28.9 litres of pure alcohol – per capita – a year, the fifth highest consumption rate in the world, below Namibia (31.3 litres), Eswatini (32.7 litres), Cook Islands (32.9 litres) and Tunisia (33.4 litres).Spread across the entire population, South Africa falls to 52nd overall, with consumption per capita of 9.3 litres.
Statistics also paint a grim picture where majority of South African alcohol consumers are also classified as heavy, or binge drinkers, with 59% of the drinking population consuming more than 60 grams or more of pure alcohol on at least one occasion over a 30-day period.
In terms of alcohol consumed, South Africa is a beer drinking nation taking up 56% of all alcohol consumed. This is followed by wine and spirits with an equal 18% share.
According to the UN health agency alcohol is also among the causes social and health challenges, including an increase in liver cirrhosis, road deaths, and cancer among others.
For South Africa, the group attributed over 9,750 deaths in 2016 to alcohol in these cases, as well as a 7% prevalence of alcohol-related disorders, and a rate of 2.4% in alcohol dependency in the country over the review period.
Other research published by the BMC Medicine, found that approximately 62,300 adults died from alcohol-attributable causes of death in South Africa in 2015.
With a total of approximately 529,400 deaths from all causes, roughly one in ten deaths was attributable to alcohol use, the researchers said.