Many people like to relax with a drink in the evening, or go out for a few on the weekend. It’s a way to wind down and switch our brain into fun mode after some focussed or stressful work time. A glass or bottle is also a handy prop at any social occasion, helping us to fit in and giving us something to do with our hands, especially if we’re a bit nervous or insecure. Let’s face it: used responsibly, alcohol is a wonderful thing.
The double-edged sword
Alcohol also has a dark side though. When consumed in excess, either just once or over a period of time, it disrupts the functioning of many areas of the body, including the brain, liver, heart, lungs, stomach and immune system. Amongst other things, this:
- Makes it difficult to think and speak clearly, or move in a co-ordinated way
- Can cause mood swings and erratic behaviour
- Can trigger a range of mental health problems including depression and schizophrenia
- Can lead to liver damage or failure
- Can trigger high blood pressure, an irregular heartbeat or even a stroke
- Reduces the body’s ability to fight infection making it susceptible to serious diseases like tuberculosis, pneumonia and cancer.
The even bigger picture
One of alcohol’s most serious effects is that it impairs judgement and reduces inhibitions. As a result, we think we’re fine, even while we’re engaging in risky behaviour like driving under the influence, having unprotected sex with a complete stranger, engaging in crime or walking alone in dangerous places, making ourselves the perfect victim. These types of behaviour have effects that damage far more than our health.
According to South African law:
- You must be 18 or older to buy alcohol or for anyone else to buy it for you.
- Bars and liquor stores can refuse to serve someone they believe is already drunk.
- It’s illegal to drive if your blood alcohol level is 0.05g per 100ml or more.
So how much can you drink? See here for some examples.
The bottom line
If you’re having a drink or two, do it responsibly. Know when you’ve had enough, and stop. If you’ve overindulged, sleep over in a safe place, get someone sober to drive you or call a cab to take you home. Rather safe than sorry, every time.