ALCOHOL always wins. If you abuse alcohol, it will also abuse you. In the beginning, you are in control of alcohol; after drinking, alcohol becomes in control of you. When alcohol takes control of you, it poses many dangers on you and the people around you including causing accidents.

I recently met a man from Uganda. I asked him what unique characteristics he observed about Zambia. His answer was almost automatic. He responded, “You drink too much in this country!” This caught my attention. I wondered why someone who had been in our country for just a few days would spot beer drinking as the most striking feature about our ‘Christian’ nation. He went on, “I am surprised to find that beer and cigarettes are sold almost at every corner. Nearly every supermarket and every shop has a beer section. Most shockingly people here start drinking very early in the morning even on Mondays.”

The Ugandan man contrasted our country with his country. He boasted that in Uganda, no bar is allowed to open before 10 AM in the morning or to continue operating after 10 PM in the night. He also said that in Uganda, during the day between 10:00 and 18:00 hrs bars are not allowed to play loud music because music may entice people to go drinking. At 22:00hrs in the night, all music must stop and all bars shut.

I am not sure if the gentleman was simply exaggerating to make his country look more sober than Zambia. But the point is that the level of alcohol abuse in our country is so frightening. Alcohol abuse is a public concern. Even foreigners are able to notice it immediately they enter Zambia. If the trend continues, we will start hearing from the international visitors that they were able to detect the smell of beer from the Zambian sky before landing at the airport.

I must mention that responsible breweries strongly discourage alcohol abuse. Such breweries are not shy to caution its consumers about the dangers of alcohol abuse. I once worked for such a brewery for many years. The company ensured that all the workers were given balanced information about alcohol. As workers, we were educated about the difference between responsible use of alcohol and irresponsible use of alcohol which is basically alcohol abuse. During induction when I joined the company, the human resource officer gave us a very strong warning, “according to our company policy, if we find you drunk on duty, we’ll fire you and if your family or the public brings a report that you are causing trouble because of your beer drinking, we’ll fire you. Always remember that.”  The brewery had strict controls on beer drinking.

Personally I didn’t worry so much about the beer drinking warnings. I thought to myself that only people who used to drink needed to worry about beer, its use and abuse. As for me, I never used to drink on duty or off duty – and I still don’t. What was so interesting about my brewery job was that a lot of people who knew that I was working in a brewery looked to me for answers. Those who loved drinking beer wanted to know how beer is made, those who wanted to quit drinking wanted to know how best they could stop drinking and still others just loved making fun of my job. “So you are a Chief Taster?” they would tease me. I would answer them that “drinking and tasting are different. You taste using your mouth and you drink using your stomach. During tasting you put beer in your mouth and spit it afterwards if you want. You don’t need to swallow it to know its quality. But I don’t do both” By the end of my answer, we would all be laughing. The constant questions I was receiving from different people forced to learn as much as I could about alcohol so that I could give well-informed answers.

As I grow older and after knowing what I know, I have realized that the use and abuse of alcohol affects everyone. Trust me it does – directly or indirectly. Initially I thought alcohol drinking only affected people who drink and their families. Alcohol abuse has serious dangers which, if not well managed, may affect not only the individuals involved but the nation at large. For the purpose of this article, I will limit myself to the health and safety hazards and risks of alcohol abuse at a personal level.

Before I highlight the dangers of alcohol abuse, let’s begin by understanding what alcohol is and how it works. Alcohol is a chemical whose chemical name is ethanol. Alcohol is what makes people drunk or intoxicated.

Alcohol is found in beer, wines and spirits. Some wines are alcohol-free which means that such wines cannot intoxicate you no matter how much you consume. Similarly, breweries have started making alcohol-free beers. Alcohol-free beer has the same colour, flavor and taste like any other beer except that it does not contain alcohol in it. Like alcohol-free wine, you can drink any amount of alcohol-free beer without getting intoxicated. So always remember that it’s not the beer which is a problem. It is the alcohol in the beer which is a problem.

The level of intoxication depends on many factors. Among other factors, intoxication depends on the alcohol concentration in the beer, amount of alcohol consumed and the rate at which it is consumed, whether you ate before drinking or not, your weight, sex and age. It’s dangerous to drink alcohol on an empty stomach. Always consult a medical doctor to advise you on the safe and suitable amount of alcohol your body can handle.

Alcohol is a psychoactive drug which is able to alter your mental processes and behaviour. Some psychoactive drugs are stimulants while others are depressants. The brain has brain cells called neurons which receive and transmit information to each other. Depressants inhibit or block the transmission of information between the brain cells.  In other words, depressants slow down the mental processes gradually shutting down your brain. Alcohol, tranquillizers and sleeping pills are depressants. They calm your mind. The stimulants do the opposite of the depressants. Stimulants increases the transmission of information between brain cells. Examples of stimulants include caffeine, cocaine and nicotine. If abused, both depressants and stimulants have serious negative health and safety effects on the person using them.

Your drinking experience goes through a cycle. As you start drinking alcohol, the ‘brain-shutting-down’ process starts. After taking a few bottles, the first thing alcohol will give you is the feeling of relaxation. As your mind becomes calm, you feel relaxed. Alcohol makes you temporarily forget about your problems and worries. Your stress and pressure momentarily disappear.  At this moment, alcohol gives you a false care-free moments. As you continue emptying more bottles, you start becoming less and less aware of yourself. Your self-awareness reduces. At that point, you start doing things contrary to your normal behaviour when you are sober. You become less likely to control your behavior. Suddenly you become a story-teller, disclosing even old hidden secretes to strangers. Your shyness goes. You even abandon your bottle to go and vibrate on the dancing floor. At that point, even the most boring song becomes danceable and the ugliest prostitute becomes prettiest. As you continue to consume more alcohol, alcohol takes total control of you. At that stage, you start staggering when walking and your speech becomes slurred. Your judgment is badly impaired and you may even experience memory loss. If you continue, you may black out or the brain may completely shut down. If that happens, you die but alcohol lives on.

You don’t need to complete the entire cycle for alcohol to pose dangers to you. Alcohol abuse is not just when someone is failing to talk or walk properly. It’s much more. Alcohol abuse is any irresponsible use of alcohol. Driving or working under the influence of alcohol is alcohol abuse. Drinking alcohol in excess is alcohol abuse.

Drinking alcohol when you are pregnant or when you are on medication is alcohol abuse. Drinking alcohol when you are below the legal age limit for consuming alcohol is alcohol abuse. In short alcohol abuse is not drinking carelessly but drinking when you are not supposed to drink especially when it is unsafe for you.

Alcohol abuse poses many dangers to your own health and safety as well as the people around you. The first danger is that alcohol abuse causes accidents. Many injuries and deaths have occurred due to alcohol-related accidents. Fatal accidents have been caused simply because some irresponsible person decided to drive or operate the machine under the influence of alcohol. Alcohol impairs your judgment and slows your thinking which in turn slows your reaction rate. If you are intoxicated, it may be difficult for you to judge correctly the right time to overtake safely. Alcohol may make you engage in unnecessary risky behaviours that are likely to cause an accident. Don’t drink and drive.

The second danger is that alcohol abuse causes alcoholism. Alcoholism is a condition whereby a person becomes psychologically and physically alcohol dependent. To such a person, he or she drinks alcohol to feel normal. Without alcohol, he or she can’t even perform. In worse situations, such a person’s hands or body may shake when he or she is sober. If you are suffering from alcoholism, seek medical attention.

The third danger is that alcohol abuse affects the pregnancy. Pregnant mothers must not take any amount of alcohol during any stage of the pregnancy. Alcohol affects the growth and development of the unborn child. Alcohol may cause serious birth defects to the child. Some birth defects like learning difficulties may last for a lifetime of the child. Even if it appears safe for the pregnant mother, any amount of alcohol is unsafe for the unborn child.

The fourth danger is that alcohol abuse affects medication. As stated above, alcohol is a chemical. Medicines are also chemicals. So combining alcohol and medicines may cause a chemical reaction.  One of the following outcomes may occur. Combination of alcohol and medicines may produce chemicals that might be harmful to you. Alcohol may prevent medicines from working effectively. Alcohol may increase the strength of the medicines thereby causing adverse side effects. If you are on medication, ask the doctor if it’s safe for you to drink alcohol.

Last but not the least, alcohol abuse causes diseases. Research shows that alcohol abuse causes brain damage, liver diseases and some types of cancer. There are other dangers like alcohol poisoning and hangover which I am unable to explain in detail due to limited space.

Alcohol never forces anyone to drink it. People choose to drink it. Drinking alcohol rapidly is dangerous.  Avoid drinking too much alcohol too fast. Eat before or during drinking. Now you know the major dangers alcohol poses on you. So make a wise choice either to abstain or to drink responsibly. Alcohol abuse is not just a social or religious issue but a health and safety hazard. Until next week, stay safe. Zambia needs you.

For all your comments, kindly contact the author on cell +260 975 255770 or email: marksucceed@gmail.com

Mark Kunda—Safety Consultant

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