The dangers of binge drinking

Responsible Drinking

Mention binge drinking and one’s thoughts usually turn to college students partying, but research shows that many adults also regularly drink enough alcohol in one sitting to be considered binging.

Various sources have different definitions for binge drinking. England’s National Health Service defines it as “drinking lots of alcohol in a short space of time or drinking to get drunk”.

Closer to home, the World Health Organisation ranks South Africa 59th highest of 195 countries for heavy episodic drinking among those who drink – this means at least 60 grams of more of pure alcohol on at least one occasion in the past 30 days.

The World Health Organisation ranks South Africa 59th highest of 195 countries for heavy episodic drinking among those who drink.

According to evidence on binge drinking in the National Income Dynamics Study (2014 – 2015) published by The South African Medical Journal, one in three South Africans reported drinking alcohol, while one in seven reported binge drinking on an average day on which alcohol was consumed. The study defined binge drinking as an individual who reported consumption of more than five standard drinks on an average drinking day.

Of drinkers, 43 % reported binge drinking (48.2% males, 32.4% females). The prevalence of self-reported binge drinking was highest among males and females aged 25 - 34 years. Dangerous alcohol consumption varies from occasional hazardous drinking to daily heavy drinking.

Harmful alcohol consumption is associated with health and safety problems including cardiovascular diseases, liver cirrhosis and various types of cancer; risky behaviour which could lead to the transmission of infectious diseases like cancer; and lead to road accidents and violence.

According to the World Health Organisation’s 2011 Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health, each year 320 000 people between the age of 15 and 29 die from alcohol-related causes, representing 9% of all deaths in that age group.

“For many young people, especially students, intoxication usually is the main goal of drinking,” says Pamela Nkuna, Smart Drinking & CSR Manager Africa at SAB. One’s body can only process one unit of alcohol per hour.

“With intoxication comes other dangers including lack of judgment about one’s personal safety, health concerns and even alcohol poisoning, which can be fatal.”

“It is important that people drink in moderation. Pace yourself carefully – no more than one drink per hour. With the introduction of no- and low-alcohol beers – such as Castle Free and Hansa Golden Crisp – SAB is giving consumers more choice and smarter drinking options to pace oneself in between beers. Have something to eat. Drinking excessively, to get drunk, is very dangerous.”

As a general rule for responsible drinking, one should aim to consume no more than one unit of alcohol per hour, amounting to about 10ml of pure alcohol. The amount of units in your drink depends on its size and strength.

A draft glass of low strength beer is two units, while a bottle of lager is 1.7 units and a cider 1.5 units. “People who weigh less than 68kg should be aware that their bodies will take a longer time to process alcohol and should drink less and more slowly.”

As an example, a 350ml bottle of Castle Lager, which has an alcohol by volume (ABV) of 5% has 1.75 units of alcohol and therefore should be consumed over approximately two hours. 

Remember, if you are going to drink, take a cab to and from your venue.

If you or a loved one is looking for help, you can call: 

  • Alcoholics Anonymous 0861 HELP AA (0861 4357 22)
  • The South African Depression and Anxiety Group 0800 21 22 23


In South Africa, the legal driving limit is a breath alcohol content of 0.24mg per 1 000ml, or a blood alcohol limit of 0.05g per 100ml.

What does this mean to consumers? How is one unit of alcohol calculated?

The formula is: multiply the volume of the drink (in millimetres/mm) by its percentage alcohol by volume (ABV) and divide by 1000, to determine the number of units of alcohol in the drink.

For example:

350ml x 5% ABV divided by 1000 = 1.75 units of alcohol

So to reiterate the Castle Lager example above, at 1.75 units of alcohol, consumers should drink one 350ml bottle every two hours to remain within the legal driving limit.


Up until 2017, was known as the Industry Association for Responsible Alcohol Use (ARA). The organisation is focused on creating a national culture of responsible drinking and a generation of South Africans free of alcohol abuse.  All companies in South Africa who are in the alcohol industry must adhere to the code of marketing.

SAB is a founder member and major sponsor of the Industry Association for Alcohol Responsibility and Education (, which coordinates and directs activities designed to prevent and reduce the misuse of alcohol. These activities include the development and monitoring of the industry’s advertising and promotions code of practice, which has been incorporated into the Advertising Standards Authority’s code of practice.

For more information about AWARE, go to