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You may be drinking to your death

Excessive consumption of alcohol impairs normal reasoning and can lead to injury or even death.

Ugandans love their drink. When you ask most, even ladies, how their perfect evening would be, the answer usually is, “At an outing having a drink.” A drink here doesn’t refer to one bottle of beer; what most of them will drink in an evening is not pre-determined.

“The number of drinks I take depends on the company I have and the mood of the place,” says Derrick, a manager in a big corporate company in town. He also explains the reason behind the loud music in bars: “Some bar owners intentionally play loud music such that it is practically impossible to engage in any conversation. You keep on talking louder and louder until you reach a point where you can’t go on.

Out of redundancy, you drink more, especially when you’re with a hot girl you do want to let go of very fast.” He also confesses that he does not have a limit as to how much he drinks in a night. As a rule, Alex, an acclaimed advertising company owner, must drink every evening. “My job is so stressing that I not only have to celebrate when it ends, but I also want to forget all the nasty names some clients call me when they are dissatisfied with my work.”

Alex says he sometimes has to take a bottle in the morning to relax his nerves for the day ahead, especially on days he’s to meet particularly difficult clients.
Like Derrick, Alex does not exactly have a limit as to how much he drinks in a day or which specific days to drink. And like Alex, there are many who drink to relieve stress, anxiety, depression or nervousness.

Dr David Basangwa, a senior consultant psychiatrist at Butabika Referral Hospital, says that such people cannot perform normally. And because alcohol dulls a certain part of the brain, it leaves them with a feeling of relaxation. The person then feels more confident and ready to confront his problems, with even a bit of humour after a bottle or two, only to gradually turn into an addict. Some are alcoholics genetically. “Science has proven that alcoholism is a genetic disease,” the doctor says, therefore, a child of an alcoholic has higher chances of becoming an addict later on in life. Culture also has a role to play.

A teenager is handed a bottle of alcohol when he turns 18 and for some, this is done without any form of prior advice on the limits one shouldn’t exceed. The child is thus left to grapple with the habit when it gets out of hand. The 2004 WHO report named Uganda as the country with the highest levels of alcohol consumption globally. Dr Basangwa says that though this may not be true, it is a pointer to the high level of drinking in a country where alcohol consumption is named by many as the best way of spending an evening.

“Drinking is okay as long as it is within safe limits but in Uganda, 30-40 per cent of all people who drink are unable to control themselves,” says the doctor. And it is this group which is lashed at by the short and long-term alcohol-related complications. After a number of studies, WHO came up with guidelines on the recommended amount of alcohol an individual should consume to avoid the harmful health and social effects caused by drinking.

A man can consume up to a maximum of 21 units a week and for a woman, 14 units per week. This puts the average number of units at two and three a day for women and men respectively. Dr Basangwa explains that these should be distributed evenly throughout the week as this too can cause complications when taken in one go. “On average, a unit of alcohol is equivalent to one beer bottle or a glass of wine (which has more alcohol content than beer) or a tot of waragi,” the doctor says. He stresses that these are in reference to factory-made products whose alcohol content is clearly measured and controlled in the distillation process and not the locally brewed waragi.

As to the disparity between the recommended amount for men and women, Dr Basangwa further explains: “The human body is composed of muscle, fluid and fat. It is a known physiological fact that women’s bodies have more fat than muscle or fluid while men have more muscle. Chemically, alcohol is not fat soluble but can dissolve in muscle and fluid. When a woman takes alcohol, it has less places to go.” “So most of it will go into circulation, the reason women get intoxicated faster than men.” Intoxication is one of the immediate effects of excess consumption of alcohol. Because it impairs normal reasoning, it can lead to death through car accidents or self-inflicted injuries or those as a result of engaging in fights.

Under the influence of alcohol, the acquisition or transmission of HIV/Aids is highly probable since an intoxicated person is unlikely to engage in safe sex. “Overdose can also lead to coma or death,” he says. “It has happened before in drinking competitions.”

Some complications of alcoholism come after prolonged use. According to Dr Basangwa, these include damage to key body organs like the liver, heart and brain, and development of cancers of the throat, liver, breast and stomach. It also leads to health conditions like malnutrition, diabetes, infertility, suicide tendencies, depression, mental confusion and memory loss (dementia). And if you thought epilepsy was solely a genetic disease, Dr Basangwa says that 50 per cent of epilepsy is hereditary while 50 per cent is as a result of external factors like alcoholism.

Most people joke about alcoholism and laugh about the various gimmicks and rib-cracking fun alcoholics mouth in their virtual stupor, “but just like diabetes and high blood pressure, alcoholism is a serious medical condition with known causes and remedies and should be treated as thus,” says Dr Basangwa.

source: Monitor Online

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