Alcohol is a legal recreational beverage you cannot wish away

Like any other problem, drunkenness should be addressed through education instead of prohibition which has proven time and time again to be ineffective., the writer says
Like any other problem, drunkenness should be addressed through education instead of prohibition which has proven time and time again to be ineffective., the writer says
Image: 123RF/Vladislavs Gorniks

Reports that hospitals were admitting more patients in trauma units have put a damper on the euphoria generated by the lifting of the ban on alcohol sales, leading to unwarranted calls by the EFF for the reinstatement of the ban.

According to the CEO of Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital, a day after the lifting of the ban, the hospital saw a spike of almost double the number of trauma patients compared to the day before.

She said that the majority of the patients were drunk, adding that "we saw patients with stab wounds, gunshot wounds, and injuries from assaults".

The CEO also expressed her apprehension, saying the hospital was going to face serious challenges going forward as a result of the unbanning of alcohol sales.

The SA Medical Association (Sama) added its voice to the furore by affirming that the lifting of prohibition on alcohol sales would now place even more pressure on the healthcare system. Clearly, minister of police Bheki Cele must feel vindicated since he had expressed his desire for a permanent ban on alcohol.

It seems other adherents to this school of thought include Sowetan columnist Malaika Mahlatsi and editor Thembela Khamango. In her column, "Jokes aside, state of our nation's defined by booze", Mahlatsi laments the lifting of the ban, stating her fears were confirmed within hours of liquor stores opening with people queuing to buy alcohol.

She also expressed a concern about seeing young people in those long queues.

Khamango then took this chain of thinking an octave higher by stating in melodramatic fashion that "If you braved a cold winter morning to go and queue outside a bottle store to buy alcohol, own it - you are an alcoholic. "(Buying a bottle not a licence to be reckless)."

She added that no matter how thirsty people were, they could have waited for lines to go down later in the week or the following week. It seems the two columnists both have a gripe with people having queued to buy alcohol as if it was not expected and were thus shocked and concerned by it.

For Khamango to label those who chose to queue to buy alcohol as alcoholics is akin to accusing people who have been queuing at supermarkets throughout the lockdown period as gluttons.

With Mahlatsi, one can only assume since her gripe is with young people who buy and presumably drink alcohol, that she does not have a problem with adults consuming alcohol.

What the two columnists and the entire Bheki Cele-led anti-alcohol brigade fail to realise, is that alcohol is a legal recreational beverage than cannot simply be wished away based on the whims of some moralists.

What needs to be understood is that there are different categories of drinkers which render it unwise to condemn drinkers as the scum of the earth.

These categories include social, occasional, habitual and excessive drinkers, among others, and all react differently to the intoxicating effects of alcohol.

Other factors such as environmental influences also determine how different individuals react to the effects of alcohol.

It is not all drinkers who are inclined to violence after taking a drink. Instead, the opposite applies as alcohol produces a mood lift and euphoria, decreases anxiety and increases sociability among some of its positive effects.

Those who engage in violence will almost invariably have underlying factors which influence their unacceptable behaviour.

What becomes clear is that South Africa does not have a drinking problem but a drunkenness problem rather.

Like any other problem, this should be addressed through education instead of prohibition which has proven time and time again to be ineffective.

To have young people throwing their lives away through alcohol is a concern indeed.

As in the case of the unacceptable rate of teenage pregnancy, one cannot ban sex but young people have to be educated about the ramifications of this scourge in an effort to minimise it.

*Lee is a Sowetan reader

Image: 123RF/Vladislavs Gorniks

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