At age 29, esteemed actor and filmmaker Bradley Cooper found himself at a crossroads – die before his 30th birthday or stop drinking. He chose the latter. For almost two decades, Cooper has abstained from alcohol. Seeking freedom from the pain of addiction wasn’t an easy journey, but overcoming addiction never is.
Well-known personalities are not the only ones affected by alcohol abuse. According to Affinity Health, South Africans are also drinking themselves to death.
Our country ranks among some of the worst in the world for its levels of binge drinking. When it comes to road deaths, we have a tragic reputation for the number of fatalities resulting from drunk driving.
We also have one of the highest rates of HIV in the world. The association between alcohol and risky sexual behaviour has been well-documented as people are less likely to practice safe sexual behaviour under the influence.
To add to the list of alcohol endangerments is Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), which is rampant in the country, particularly in the Western Cape, and the increased levels of domestic violence associated with alcohol abuse.
“Alcoholism is a massive health problem and its negative consequences can be felt in homes, communities, schools, workplaces, the healthcare system and society as a whole,” says Murray Hewlett, CEO of Affinity Health.
“Aside from the emotional damage alcohol causes, it can wreak havoc on your body. Long-term abuse can kill liver cells, leading to scarring called cirrhosis and fatty liver disease. Studies of heavy drinkers also show that they are more likely to have trouble pumping blood to their heart and may have a higher chance of dying from heart disease. Heavy drinking also can cause mental health issues like depression and dementia. There is also a clear link between heavy alcohol use and many types of cancers (mouth, throat, voice box, oesophagus, liver, breast), and infections.”
Although there is no single cause that leads to alcoholism, risk factors can increase the chance of addiction. Having a family member diagnosed with a substance use disorder increases the risk that one will be diagnosed with an alcohol use disorder. As does the presence of a pre-existing substance use disorder, traumatic events and stress, relationship issues within the family, and peer pressure.
When you’re struggling with alcoholism, sobriety can seem like an impossible goal. But with the proper treatment and support recovery is never out of reach, no matter how hopeless your situation seems. The first step (and arguably the most important) is deciding to make a change.
Many places can assist you, provided you WANT the help. If you or someone you know needs help with alcoholism, there are several organisations you can reach out to. These include:
- Al-Anon Family Groups: Helpline: 0861 ALANON (25 26 66), e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- SANCA: Johannesburg: 08611 REHAB (73422) or (011) 673-0400 or sanca-jhb.org.za; Western Cape: (021) 945 4080/1, or www.sancawc.co.za
- Department of Social Development’s Substance Abuse Line: National toll-free helpline: 0800 12 13 14 or SMS 32312