“More than 21 000 people have been arrested on our roads in the last year as a result of drinking and driving, and it has been shown that 50% of people who die on our roads are over the limit,” says Gary Ronald, head of Public Affairs for the Automobile Association of South Africa (AA). He adds that, “Alcohol significantly slows reaction time and distorts your vision, and the effects of a heavy night of drinking could well affect your driving ability the next morning.”

After only one unit of alcohol, your chances of being in an accident are doubled. One unit constitutes 10ml of pure alcohol for an average adult weighing 68kg. This is equal to two-thirds of a beer, 75ml of wine or 25ml of whiskey or brandy. A Smirnoff Spin contains between 1.2 and 2 units of alcohol while a 340ml can of Castle Lager is 1.6 units. At the legal drinking limit, you are four times more likely to be in an accident, says Ronald. In South Africa, the legal limit is a breath alcohol content of 0.24mg per 1 000ml, or a blood alcohol limit of 0.05g per 100ml, so you could be over the legal driving limit after a single drink according to Charlotte Sullivan, director and fundraiser of South Africans Against Drunk Driving (SADD). The AA advises that you limit your alcohol consumption to one unit of alcohol per hour. If you weigh less than 68kg, the amount of alcohol your body can process could be much less.

Sullivan says that students don’t realise the consequences of excessive drinking until they are in a car crash or involved in another incident. She warns that the intake of large amounts of alcohol could also lead to increased levels of violence and unsafe sex practices. Excessive drinking can also affect students’ academic performance at university. “We know from the latest research that binge drinking can lead to permanent damage to the brain,” Sullivan says adding that each time you blackout, a part of your brain suffers irreparable damage.

Binge drinking among students has become culturally acceptable. The SADD defines binge drinking as more than five units of alcohol in a single sitting. However, she says students drink a lot more than this on a night out. Many students find themselves away from home for the first time and they suddenly have very few restrictions. “Sadly, because young peopleoften do not receive any education on alcohol they do not understand the dangers of this sort of drinking,” continues Sullivan.

She warns that young people can easily become alcohol or drug addicts at university. “It is important to know your family history – if you have any family history of addiction you need to be very careful about drinking and drugging.” According to Dr Andreas Plüddemann, a specialist scientist in the Medical Research Council’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Research Unit, because your alcohol tolerance increases the more you drink, people often don’t realise they have a problem until they’re in their late thirties.

South Africa has one of the highest statistics of heavy drinkers in the world. A study by the World Health Organisation showed that the per capita intake of South African male binge drinkers from the age of 15 onwards is nearly 40 litres of pure alcohol per year.

“We’ve done calculations that put us in the deep red zone. This puts us in the highest bracket in the world, along with Russia and the Ukraine,” says Plüddemann. South Africa loses R20 billion in productivity costs due to alcohol-related deaths, absenteeism, poor productivity and high turnover.

The cancellation of a number of university sponsored events where students could drink alcohol and stringent residence clubhouse curfews still spark outrage among many Tuks students. Robert Seyfert, an IT student at UP, believes that prohibition isn’t actually decreasing student drinking. “The only way to make something safer is to manage it. The majority of students want to drink. Period. There’s no getting around that,” he says. Seyfert believes that the early curfews and bars in Hatfield Square closing down are forcing students to look for new watering holes further away from Hatfield, causing numerous students to drive drunk.

Howard Dembovsky, national chairperson of the Justice Project South Africa, says although the situation is sad, Tuks are well within their rights to cancel such events. He agrees that prohibition doesn’t work, and says that student behaviour at events should be taken into account when looking at Tuks’s decision to cancel certain events. “They have the right to protect their property from damage and it is not uncommon for drunk people to vandalise things,” says Dembovsky. Sullivan says that the availability of alcohol at university events should be restricted at events, especially events aimed at first-years.

“The university is an educational institution – not its students’ parents,” says Dembovsky. He says it might, however, be a good idea for the university to include alcohol education in its course syllabus. SADD runs a programme in ten South African universities that educates students about alcohol and its effects. “Education and awareness is very important as well as developing a culture in the university that does not promote alcohol abuse,” he says.

“Getting caught and convicted for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs can and will have a disastrous effect on the rest of your life and make everything you have studied for at varsity a waste of time and effort. You will not be able to get a job or a travel visa. But getting caught should be the very least of your worries. You could kill your friends, yourself, and/or someone’s loved one. If that’s what you want to do, go ahead and drive while you are impaired. If it’s not, then get a designated driver who drinks soft drinks while you party it up,” says Dembovsky.

Photo: Brendan Fraser

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