What alcohol can do to your health

Anew report has been launched by World Health Organisation (WHO), estimating that three million people die every year from excessive consumption of alcohol, and most of them are men.

Worldwide, an estimated 2.3 billion people drink alcohol. Of these, around 237 million are men and 46 million are women.


The report also states that use of alcohol leads to violence, road accidents, injuries, mental health problems and diseases like cancer and stroke. 




According to statistics from Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), the non-communicable diseases risk factors survey in 2013 revealed that a representative sample of 7,240 people aged 15 to 64 years indicated that 30 per cent of men and 17 per cent of women had binged on alcohol in the past 30 days preceding the survey.

Francois Habiyaremye, cardiovascular diseases officer, non-communicable diseases division at RBC, says the significant causes of alcohol consumption include lack of parental guidance, peer pressure, and relationships, among others.

Francis Kazungu, a general practitioner in Kigali, says in order to prevent the burden of alcohol consumption, especially among the youth, there is need to sensitise the public on the health and economic effects alcohol has on individuals and society in general.

This, he explains, is the reason why a big number of the youth are abusing alcohol, as some of them were exposed to it at an early age.

He notes that factors such as exposure to binge drinking or alcoholism, access to alcohol from parents and others, being close to friends who drink, access to cheap alcohol, among others, contributes to abuse of alcohol, especially among the youth; a habit he believes is carried to adulthood.

Kazungu says unsupervised time also leads many youngsters to consumption of alcohol.


According to WHO, alcohol consumption causes death and disability relatively early in life. In the age group 20 to 39 years, approximately 13.5 per cent of the total deaths are alcohol-related.

Dr Emmanuel Munyarugamba, a psychologist at University Teaching Hospital Kigali (CHUK), says there is a causal relationship between harmful use of alcohol and a range of mental and behavioural disorders, as well as other non-communicable conditions.

He says WHO indicates that the latest causal relationships have been established between harmful drinking and incidents of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, as well as the course of HIV/AIDS.

Beyond health consequences, he says, the harmful use of alcohol brings significant social and economic losses to individuals and society at large.

Habiyaremye says alcohol is a psychoactive substance with dependence-producing properties that has been widely used in many cultures for centuries.

For instance, he notes that harmful use of alcohol can result in harm to other people, such as family members, friends, co-workers and strangers.

Moreover, the use of alcohol results in a significant health, social and economic burden on society at large.

Habiyaremye says alcohol consumption is a causal factor in more than 200 disease and injury conditions.

“Drinking alcohol is associated with a risk of developing health problems such as mental and behavioural disorders, including alcohol dependence, major non-communicable diseases such as liver cirrhosis, some cancers and cardiovascular diseases,” he says.

Habiyaremye adds that a significant proportion of the burden attributed to alcohol consumption arises from unintentional and intentional injuries; including road accidents, violence, and suicide, among others.

He says that this is more common among youngsters.

Kazungu says the physical dependency caused by alcohol can lead to an affected individual having a very strong urge to drink alcohol.

“These characteristics play a role in decreasing an alcoholic’s ability to stop drinking,” he says.

Munyarugamba says that alcoholism can have adverse effects on mental health, causing psychiatric disorders and increasing the risk of suicide. A depressed mood is a common symptom of heavy alcohol drinkers.

Alcohol brings significant social and economic losses to individuals and society at large./Net


Kenneth Ruzinana, a gynaecologist at University Teaching Hospital Kigali (CHUK), says alcohol consumption by an expectant woman may cause foetal alcohol syndrome and pre-term birth complications.

Women should actually stop drinking alcohol before they try to get pregnant. He explains that this is important because even a small amount of alcohol can be harmful.

Also, he says, women don’t know they are pregnant for the first few weeks of their pregnancy, so it is important to not drink alcohol. 

He says that babies of women who drink alcohol while pregnant can have foetal alcohol syndrome which causes brain damage and growth problems.

“Compared to normal babies, those with this syndrome tend to weigh less, have smaller heads and when they grow up they have lifelong problems, including how they feed and act,” he says.

Another problem, Ruzindana says, is women who abuse alcohol are likely to have a still birth.

The symptoms of babies with foetal alcohol syndrome, he says, include fussiness and sensitivity to noise, as well as developmental delays, among others.

Alcoholism can have adverse effects on mental health, causing psychiatric disorders ./Net


Residential programmes or specialised hospitals such as Ndera Neuropsychiatric Hospital can offer professional help, individual or group therapy, support groups, training, family involvement, activity therapy, and a host of strategies for treating alcohol abuse.

Being physically away from access to alcohol is helpful for some people.

Sylvester Twezirimana, a psychologist in Rubavu District, says the first step towards recovery is for one to acknowledge that there is an alcohol dependency problem.

After that, he says, one can get the help they need, and this is available in support groups and professionals.

Twezirimana says that dealing with the underlying problem is essential.

He says that, for instance, there may be problems with self-esteem, stress, anxiety or depression.

“It is important to treat these problems too as they can increase the risks posed by alcohol. Common alcohol-related issues, such as hypertension, liver disease, and possibly heart disease, will need to be treated as well,” he says.

Another strategy Twizerimana suggests is for addicts of alcohol to get involved in helpful programmes.

In some cases, Habiyaremye says one can use drugs such as naltrexone, which may help reduce the urge to have a drink.

Some medications can help prevent withdrawal symptoms that can occur after quitting, and that treatment usually lasts four to seven days.

Some people complete detox successfully, but they start drinking again either soon after or sometime later.

“This can be solved by counselling, medical help, support groups, and family support,” he says.



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