SA youth’s increasing desire to practise ’mindful drinking’

The Covid-19 pandemic might have caused widespread devastation for South Africans from all walks of life but for Daniel Campbell (not his real name) the novel coronavirus presented him with the perfect opportunity to kick his excessive drinking habits.

“I am ashamed to admit this but I would drink about five days a week and two of them were days where I would usually binge drink,” the 25-year-old from the south of Johannesburg explained to The Saturday Star this week.

But when the country went into an unprecedented lockdown at the end of March last year, Campbell decided to use this time in isolation to make changes to his lifestyle.

“I started working from home and I couldn’t see my friends so I decided that I would try and see if I could cut back on my drinking,” the youngster said.

While restricted sale of alcohol was a major factor in Campbell’s decision, he also cited increased productivity, saving money as well as a general desire to live a healthier lifestyle as other reasons to cut back on the booze.

“After I left school, I put on a lot of weight and I thought that the lockdown would be the perfect chance to exercise and eat healthy.”

After a few weeks of eating better, regular exercise albeit from home at the time, and a lack of alcoholic beverages resulted in Campbell dropping a few kilograms.

“I was also saving so much money because I wasn’t going out anymore and I wasn’t buying alcohol and I can honestly say I put that money to good use.”

Campbell also feels like he is now performing better at his IT job and has more energy than ever before.

“The lockdown has been really challenging, but it has also changed my life and even after this is all over, I don’t see myself going back to my old ways completely.”

Campbell is just one of many South African youngsters, who are a variety of different reasons, have attempted to decrease their alcohol consumption.

Experts believe that while the global health crisis might have been a significant factor, the desire from millennials and Generation Z, colloquially known as “zoomers”, to live a healthier lifestyle has also resulted in the younger generation reducing their alcohol intake.

Maurice Smithers, director of Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance in SA, said there appeared to be a global trend in youngsters cutting back on alcohol, particularly in countries where the growth in alcohol consumption has levelled off.

“For example, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), only 31% of South Africans aged 15 and above actually use alcohol, compared to 76.5% in Belgium, 79.4% in Germany, 75.3% in France, and 67.8% in Italy.”

Smithers added that there was more pressure on young South Africans to drink compared to their European counterparts because the local alcohol industry is still trying to grow the market in the country as well as in the rest of Africa.

“Nevertheless, global interconnectivity means that young people in South Africa are in touch with trends elsewhere, so there are some who are adopting a healthier approach and choosing not to drink, smoke, use too much sugar, eat junk food etc.”

While there is not yet significant research to confirm that the alcohol restrictions imposed during different phases of the Covid-19 lockdown persuaded more South Africans to consume less alcohol, Smithers believes there is anecdotal evidence to back this up.

“We believe generally that people are now thinking more critically about alcohol as a result of Covid-19 and the fact that the issue has been discussed extensively in the media.”

But he warned against generalising this matter and that not all South African youngsters can be painted with the same brush when it comes to alcohol consumption.

“We would expect that it is more likely in the middle classes, black and white, than amongst all youth in the country.”

Smithers said in some vulnerable communities, there is often less information about healthy living due to the high cost of connecting to the internet, a lack of healthy alternatives as well as more access to alcohol.

“In such areas, there is evidence that the number of alcohol outlets per capita is higher in poorer areas than richer areas and, at the same time the number of sporting and recreational facilities is much lower per capita in poorer areas than in richer areas.”

Meanwhile, Alex Glenday, the director at Brew Kombucha the country’s first certified organic kombucha producer, has welcomed the practice of “mindful drinking” that an increasing number of youngsters are observing.

“The premise of mindful drinking is that you actively think about why and how much alcohol you consume – whether it’s out of habit, due to social pressure, because you enjoy the taste or are actively trying to lose your inhibitions,” he said.

“‘The intended result is not always to stop drinking alcohol completely, but to have a healthier relationship with it.”

Glenday believes that the destigmatisation of no- or low-alcohol beverage alternatives, especially in social spaces, has played a significant role in the rise of the mindful drinking movement.

“Historically, drinking has been synonymous with going out, making friends, and relaxing in general but now, the emergence of sober spaces and conscious clubbing movements is changing the social landscape, making alcohol less important to the social lives of young people than it has been in the past.”

The Saturday Star