By Meluse Kapatamoyo
People who consume alcohol will give you different reasons as to why they drink. But while those reasons may differ, the ultimate purpose is to get relaxation, not only of the body but also the mind.
It is therefore common to see colleagues and friends alike meeting for alcoholic beverages at their favorite drinking spots after working hours.
Although a few years back, this trend seemed to be a reserve for men, the bar is no longer a domain for men alone. For some women, a trip to the bar after a stressful day at the office for a few bottles of beer or glasses of wine is now the normal. It is for this reason that it is now believed that women are drinking more than they did a few years ago, an assertion that Tsute Mwale refutes.
“The only difference now is that women are more independent and don’t mind as much what men think. They see themselves to be at par with their male counterparts. People will say women are drinking more now, I disagree, it’s only that in the past they were secretive about it and now they are not. It’s a liberation process,” Tsute said.
For Tsute, it is wrong for people to brand women who drink from bars as being loose and irresponsible as most are decent and are just out to have a good time and on many occasions with their female friends.
“A woman has many roles, not only is she a career woman, she has to be a wife and mother among many other things and all these things can be very exhausting. Some choose to have a few drinks to unwind before going home to another hectic environment. I see nothing wrong with that unless she begins to neglect her family in preference for alcohol and hanging out with her friends.”
Tsute who herself is an occasional drinker and a mother of one girl says she prefers to invite friends over with their children. She says that way not only do the parents get to spend time and watch over their children, the mothers too can enjoy some downtime with adult company while drinking moderately.
It's difficult to obtain the actual statistics in Zambia as very few research has been done with regards to alcohol but what is considered moderate drinking?
The United States Department ofAgriculture (USDA) defines moderate drinking as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. For women who drink above average, the health risks are many; Liver damage, heart disease, breast cancer among many others.
Dr Francis Mupeta, the Secretary General of the Resident Doctors Association Of Zambia adds that "an individual who is dis-inhibited will engage in activities they would not normally do if they were sober such as unprotected sex, a public nuisance and disorderly conduct.
"Alcohol can also disturb the menstrual cycle and eventually infertility. Alcohol also exposes a woman to physical and sexual abuse."
And while chronic heavy drinking is a leading cause of heart disease, women are more susceptible to alcohol-related heart disease than men, even though women drink less alcohol over a lifetime than men.
"It should be noted that women are more susceptible to the effects of alcohol than men. This is because they have more body fat than men," Dr Mupeta emphasized.
The USDA also notes that “there is an association between drinking alcohol and developing breast cancer. Women who consume about one drink per day have a 10 percent higher chance of developing breast cancer than women who do not drink at all."
For pregnancies, any drinking during pregnancy is risky. A pregnant woman who drinks heavily puts her fetus at risk for learning and behavioral problems and abnormal facial features. Even moderate drinking during pregnancy can cause problems.
And SABMiller, the main distributor of popular alcoholic beverages in Zambia in its 2011 Position Paper on Pregnancy and Alcohol states that pregnant women should either not drink alcohol or seek medical advice before they do.
“Though we recognise that consumers are ultimately responsible for their own drinking decisions, our advertising does not suggest that drinking during pregnancy is acceptable behaviour,” reads part of the company’s position statement on alcohol and pregnancy.
The paper further states that a cluster of genetic anomalies, classified as FoetalAlcohol Syndrome (FAS) or Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) has been found in some children born to women who are either dependent on or abuse alcohol during pregnancy.
FASD is a birth defect that has its primary effect on the brain. The anomalies include pre and postnatal growth deficiency, distinctive facial features and central nervous system dysfunction.
“Other foetal conditions associated with drinking during pregnancy are heart and kidney defects, hearing and sight impairment, cleft lip, and other brain and central nervous system dysfunction. But in women who are light or infrequent drinkers, there is no conclusive evidence of increased risk of foetal harm or miscarriage,” says SABMiller.
Dr Mupeta counters SABMiller warning that "alcohol crosses the placenta and can affect the baby. It is teratogenic meaning it has the ability to form 'cancers' in fetuses. A baby can also be born with a condition known as fetal alcohol syndrome which leads to physical, mental and behavioral disorders in children."
"The effects of alcohol on an infant can be as disastrous as that of unborn one. Some of the pronounced ones are brain damage. The infant would have delayed development milestones such as sitting, walking and speech. These children end up with learning disabilities in school."
While understandably there is a justified scorn towards women who drink whilst pregnant, Pastor Isaac Makashinyi of Emmasdale Baptist Church says alcohol has a negative impact on marriages and families.
Pastor Makashinyi says ”alcohol breeds suspicion and tension in the marriage. Husbands of spouses who drink away from home naturally begin to suspect their wives of extramarital affairs with other men. Furthermore, the tension builds up due to the negative feelings that begin to develop toward the alcoholic wife because of the smell of stale alcohol on their breath.”
Such acts open the door for infidelity in the marriage by one spouse or both. The non- alcoholic husband may turn to someone else for comfort, while the alcoholic wife may betray the marriage as a result of a wrong decision made while under the influence of the alcohol.
The hurt felt from this betrayal of trust in a marriage often times causes the end of the marriage. Alcohol causes the drinker to have strange and adulterous thoughts, produces willfulness, and prevents reformation because it makes one unstable.
Dr Mupeta explains that "alcohol increases sexual arousal and desire by psychologically dishibiting them! This makes them (women) more vulnerable to unwanted sexual advances from men. Women who drink were more likely to have unprotected sex and therefore more likely to contract sexually transmitted infections.
On the other hand, alcohol is a suppressant therefore it tends to cause latency in achieving orgasm and less intense orgasmic experiences. Alcohol also affects the ability of an individual to relax, therefore affecting the 'coming' of a woman during intercourse."
Pastor Makashinyi also warned that “in situations where alcohol is present, differences between spouses become more frequent and intense. And because the marital quality is decreased, these differences increase the likelihood of divorce. Drinking has an impact on the amount of time that partners spend together, especially if the alcoholic frequently drinks away from home. The more time spent apart, the less satisfied the nonalcoholic spouse becomes and the greater the potential for divorce, “
He added that alcohol also increases irrational behaviour such as anger and because marital satisfaction is related strongly to a couple's ability to communicate effectively, heavy alcohol use is associated with more negative and hostile communication, more expressions of anger, and less warmth and unity in the relationship.
These factors, he says decrease a couple’s satisfaction in their marriage and create greater tension and violent behaviour. In Proverbs 4:17, the Bible refers to alcoholic drink as “the wine of violence.”
In the clergy’s view children who grow up in an alcoholic home environment may develop emotional problems, such as anxiety and behavioral outburst. Such children who rarely have quality time with their mother in a sober state begin to feel unloved and lonely and hence develop serious emotional and developmental problems.
According to Pastor Makashinyi, “Drinking mothers simply don't have the time for effective and responsible parenting.”
Besides the many problems already said, alcohol affects medications such as oral contraceptives and makes them less potent. This results in a woman falling pregnant despite being on the pill.
There are some ARV’s which are hepatogenic (capable of affecting the liver). When these are combined with alcohol, they can accelerate liver damage or they may be made less potent by alcohol. PYM.