Put a cork in it: Boffins call for fresh assault on booze abuse

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Put a cork in it: Boffins call for fresh assault on booze abuse

Males and varsity students most prone to go from regular drinking to alcoholism, experts say

Cape Town bureau chief


South Africans’ love affair with liquor has spurred medical experts to call for “concerted efforts” to prevent regular drinking turning into alcohol abuse.
Writing in the January edition of the South African Medical Journal, they call for: Interventions to delay the start of drinking;
A campaign among young people to prevent regular drinking turning into abuse;
A crackdown on alcohol sales to children;
Tougher enforcement of under-age drinking laws; and
A focus on the influence of friends and family when it comes to starting drinking and becoming an alcoholic. In particular, they say, the focus should be on males and university students, since hazardous drinking was the most prevalent public health issue for members of these groups.
Nadine Harker Burnhams, of the Medical Research Council and the University of Cape Town, led a team that analysed data from the South African Stress and Health Survey, part of a global project by the World Health Organisation.
“To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine the transition from alcohol use to dependence,” said Harker Burnhams.
Among the 4,300 adults who completed the WHO survey in 2004, most started drinking regularly in their early 20s and within two years of their first drink.
“Transitioning from regular alcohol use to alcohol abuse and from abuse to dependence occurs later in life, generally in the late 40s,” said Harker Burnhams.
“Given the length of time it takes people to transition to more harmful levels of alcohol use, there is a sizable window of opportunity to identify regular users ... and help them reduce their risk of progressing to abuse or dependence.”
The finding about university students’ vulnerability to problem drinking was concerning because it was linked to lower academic achievement, unsafe sex and injury, she said.
Harker Burnhams’ analysis found that 21.7% of participants in the survey reported levels of drinking that met the criteria for abuse, and 6.7% met the criteria for dependence.

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