Alcohol is a natural chemical, and is produced by fermenting and distilling organic material such as hops, grapes, peaches etc. Drinks vary in the percentage of alcohol present, from beer and wine, which contains anything up to 5-15 % alcohol by volume, depending on brand, to spirits such as mampoer and witblits, which can contain up to 80% alcohol. This concentration is normally published on the packaging.Although drinking is social pastime, alcohol is a poison and it can kill brain cells. Your body sucks up vital fluids to relieve its effects from your organs to dilute the poison. It activates the adrenal glands to speed up your metabolism so as to remove this poison as fast as possible, causing euphoria.

If you continue drinking, your body runs out of the vital fluids with which to dilute the alcohol, and becomes dehydrated. Too much alcohol generally makes you throw up. Hangovers are caused by toxins and dehydration.

Alcohol acts not as a stimulant, as is often supposed, but as a depressant. It switches off nerve impulses to areas of the brain involved in memory, judgement, and coordination.

Short-term effects of alcohol use include distorted vision, hearing, and coordination, altered perceptions and emotions, impaired judgement, bad breath and hangovers. Long-term effects of heavy alcohol use include loss of appetite, vitamin deficiencies, stomach ailments, skin problems, sexual impotence, liver damage, heart and central nervous system damage and memory loss. Alcohol can cause major neurological damage as a result of causing a thiamine (Vitamin B12) deficiency – but only in very large doses over a long period of time.

Because alcohol is legal, generally it is abused with a high frequency and with little thought. Drinking can bring on aggressive behaviour. It slows down your reflexes and confuses your mind, so you should not drive when drunk. It’s very dangerous not only for you, but for your passengers and other road users. Dancing is difficult when drunk, as it can make you clumsy and uncoordinated.

If your family has a history of alcoholism, be especially careful about regular drinking because you could have the tendency to develop the same problem. Alcohol shouldn’t be mixed with Ecstasy since it makes the danger of dehydration more severe. The same applies to depressant drugs (e.g. Heroin). Alcohol and GHB should NOT be mixed since both of them have a sedative effect on your body. Mixing the two compounds this effect, and can lead to deep unconsciousness for a few hours.

Harmful effects of alcohol on the foetus and infant

(See IOL: The shameful truth of foetal alcohol syndrome)

A lost, unidentified and neglected generation.

Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), is the name given to a group of physical and mental birth defects which are the direct result of maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy. FAS is now known to be the world’s leading cause of mental retardation. Symptoms can include growth deficiencies before and/or after birth, major organ damage, skeletal deformities, damage to the Central Nervous System resulting in learning disabilities, behavioural problems, lower IQ, and facial characteristics common to all children diagnosed with FAS. Foetal Alcohol Effects (FAE), is the name given when all the characteristics required for a diagnosis of FAS is not present. This does not mean FAE is a lesser problem. Children who have FAE can still display the same learning disabilities and behavioural problems as a child with FAS, and it is largely under diagnosed. Research has shown that as many as 1/3 of learning disabled children (not otherwise diagnosed) may have been affected by alcohol before birth. Figures show that between1 and 3 per 1000 live births in the UK are born with FAS, and many times that number are affected by FAE.


Alcohol has contributed to the “Ladette” culture of binge drinking, where women are drinking regularly in larger quantities well over and above the 2 units. This can lead to drunken, unprotected sex and consequently pregnancy. In the U.K. Government’s pregnancy leaflet “Drinking for two”, the advice given is that 1-2 units of alcohol once or twice a week is acceptable. This is questionable in the light of recent research that suggests there is no known safe level of alcohol consumption whilst pregnant. Whilest the UK has the highest teen pregnancies and underage drinking in Europe, the Northern Cape in South Africa has the highest incidence of FAS in the world. Research is needed to explore the relationship between these two facts especially so as if there is a linkage then these children will be at a higher risk of prenatal alcohol related harm.

The foetus brain is developing all through the pregnancy. The brain is still developing into the early twenties. Drinking forms a large part of our social culture. Some people even plan major life events around alcohol. We therefore need to appreciate that we are talking about cultural change. Binge drinking has become a major problem, especially for women, who may consume the recommended safe weekly quota of alcohol in a single sitting. The Government should concentrate its efforts in prevention by developing an education programme, which should be integrated with smoking and drugs education programs in schools. The programme should ideally commence at age 7 bearing in mind that statistics show that children as young as 9 are experimenting with alcohol.

Alcohol education programs should be ongoing, continuing throughout school life. The United States also utilises public service announcements, brief interventions by medical personal and signage laws at points of sale. US Studies have shown that just one form of education in not as effective as several forms of education combined.

This is especially true of education that is done at an early age. The evidence shows that when these forms of education are combined with other initiatives aimed at adult consumers a significant reduction in risky drinking behaviours can result.

Attention needs to be focused particularly on women; Education and Awareness campaigns are needed to prevent the lasting damage that alcohol can cause to the Foetus.

The 1990 US Census report shows that the women most likely to drink is white with two year associates degree or a baccalaureate degree and earns an income over $20,000.

A Swedish study demonstrated that the stresses of the workplace, in combination with after hours homework escalate for women and probably contributes to the increased drinking among modern women. Very early marriage, very late marriage, no marriage (living together), marriage under duress, a significant other who drinks, financial and personal problems and a family history of alcohol abuse can all lead to risky drinking behaviours. One group we need to focus on specifically is young people, where the evidence suggests a rise in consumption, particularly by young women.

The need to belong to a social group brings peer pressure to all parts of the community, including ethnic groups (i.e. secret drinking/drug taking particularly with third generation immigrants) and starts during the primary school years.

The media influences social habits of a wide nature including appearance, entertainment, what to eat and drink as well as behaviour by giving a voice to the wrong type of role models. Women are taking greater risks because others are appearing to get away with it. However the blatant use of alcohol in our society has degraded it to a psychological oil that lubricates the way for conversation and superficial bonding. It has taken the place of honest, open relationships and prevents people and governments from openly facing the problems of education, employment and other economic quandaries. Women today face greater challenges owing to the culture of independent women. It has caused separation from men who feel insignificant and intimidated by the movement. The result is a generation of independent lonely single women who, just like men, need to use alcohol as a lubricant for beginning relationships.

The so-called Ladette culture is making the headlines more and more. This involves young women who binge drink. Often this is linked with the pub-crawl cum nightclub trawl. Some areas are more noted for it and they should be identified as causing concern. Young women often start their drinking habits on the streets at a very early age and in family homes. It is a known fact that a large number of young people are under age drinkers. They look older than their true age and are putting themselves at risk. Identity/Proof of Age card schemes could be encouraged as part of the answer here.

Pubs now offer two for the price of one and happy hours to encourage drinkers into their premises knowing full well that once a customer is in the, they are reluctant to leave. This also encourages binge drinking. Broad regional differences occur between rural and urban areas (WHO Global Status Report on Alcohol). Women tend to start drinking at a later age than men but then tend to consume more and develop serious medical problems at an earlier age. Women’s drinking can cause Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, Foetal Alcohol Effect and or other alcohol related birth defects/disorders. Men’s drinking can produce offspring who are hyperactive and unable to solve test problems and have gross motor skill problems.

Fashion and marketing within the pop/media influences a wide range of social habits including appearance, entertainment, that to eat and drink and behaviour by giving a voice to the wrong type of behaviour. The wrong role models are always in the news. Positives role models/heroes should be highlighted.

The alcohol industry must learn to diversify the nature of their product lines in order to ease their way out their dependence on alcohol as a primary source of income. The Government must decide whether it wishes to protect its youngest and unborn citizens above the rights of companies to make money and of adults to determine the life outcome of children before they are even born. It is not easy to change the mind of businesses that seek to make a profit but the alternative in the long term could be a general population with lower IQ’s.

How do attitudes to risk affect use of alcohol? Young people have a tendency to think, “It won’t happen to me.” This causes a great deal of complacency that in turn increases the risk factor applying to all that they do. Greater access to information and education at all ages is vital. Many people have the impression that moderate drinking is not harmful and carries no risks. The risk of alcohol related harm does not suddenly appear after a given number of units of alcohol. The use of moderate must be carefully defined as it means different things to different people, including the different genders. The US National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism have stated that 1 drink a day is moderate for a woman and 2 drinks a day is moderate for a man. More than this means a greater risk to organ failure, brain damage as well as a possible inclination towards alcohol dependency. For women there is an increased risk of breast cancer.

There are additional risks, and therefore problems, when alcohol is combined with other factors such as legal or illegal drugs. Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) can be caused before a woman knows she is pregnant. It therefore requires an intense pre-warning and information system long before the woman even considers getting pregnant or even wants to. T

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