Data published by the World Health Organisation shows that South African consumers of alcohol are some of the heaviest drinkers globally, 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, do so heavily.
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.
Alarmingly, the 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.
Alcohol abuse is highlighted by the WHO as the cause of many social and health troubles, 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.
According to the paper, the approximation of one in 10 (~12%) people dying from alcohol-related causes is much higher than the previous estimate of 7% in 2010, showing that there is a growing problem in the country.
With a road traffic death rate (39.7 per 100 000 each year) double the global rate, it is estimated that 40% of road traffic deaths involve pedestrians where half had a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit for driving, the WHO said.
The WHO previously reported that South Africa has one of the highest rate of alcohol-related road deaths in the world, where as many as 58% of deaths can be attributed to alcohol consumption.