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OBJECTIVE: To provide community-level public health surveillance on alcohol misuse in South Africa and the associated negative consequences. METHOD: A descriptive, epidemiological study of alcohol use based on data gathered biannually from multiple sources over 4 years, including specialist treatment centers, trauma units, mortuaries, psychiatric facilities, and surveys of school students and arrestees. Networks were set up in five sentinel sites to facilitate the collection, interpretation and dissemination of data. RESULTS: Indicators point to the widespread misuse of alcohol. Alcohol consistently dominates the demand for substance use disorders treatment services. In the second half of 2000, 51.1% (Cape Town) to 77.0% (Mpumalanga) of patients reported alcohol as their primary substance of abuse. A high proportion of patients in trauma units tested positive for alcohol in 2000, ranging from 40.3% (Durban) to 91.8% (Port Elizabeth). Similarly, a high proportion of mortality cases tested positive for alcohol, ranging from 40.3% (Durban) to 67.2% (Port Elizabeth). Although treatment demand is dominated by men and older persons, alcohol misuse occurs among all sectors. School surveys reflect harmful drinking patterns among students, with 53.3% and 36.5% of male students in Durban and Cape Town, respectively, reporting heavy-drinking episodes by Grade 11. DISCUSSION: Alcohol misuse has a number of implications for public health policy, such as the need to develop protocols for the management of alcohol-positive patients in trauma units and to target prevention programs at heavy drinking by young people. Further monitoring of alcohol misuse and its associated negative consequences is required.


Journal article


J Stud Alcohol

Publication Date





430 - 435


Adult, Alcoholism, Breath Tests, Chi-Square Distribution, Female, Humans, Male, Population Surveillance, South Africa, Substance-Related Disorders