A new study has found that alcoholism in South Africa leads to the loss of over 10 years of life

A new study has found that alcoholism in South Africa leads to the loss of over 10 years of life for those affected. The research, which analyzed medical aid claims from over a million people between 2011 and the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, discovered that men with alcoholism lost significantly more years of life expectancy than those with mental health diagnoses, at almost 4 years shorter compared to men without mental illness.

For women, the impact of alcohol abuse was found to be worse than that of drug use. The study also found that people who rely on the public health sector may be at a higher risk of poor mental health outcomes than those who access private services.


Mental disorders are among the top 10 leading causes of disease in South Africa and about 30% of people receive a mental health diagnosis at some point in their lives. The study’s authors note that while most mental disorders do not directly lead to death, they do increase the risk of suicide, accidental death, and premature mortality from physical illness.


The study found that deaths from natural causes, which formed the majority in the 282,926 patients with mental health diagnoses, can be attributed to a higher incidence of physical comorbidities among people with mental illness and worse access to or engagement in healthcare. Out of 1,070,183 medical aid members analyzed, 30.5% of women and 22.1% of men received mental health diagnoses, with the most common related to anxiety, including generalized anxiety, post-traumatic stress, depression, and bipolar disorders.


For men, drug use disorders were found to be the most serious threat to life expectancy, costing them 12.32 years, while for women, the biggest threat to longevity was alcoholism at 10.24 years. The researchers also found that men with mental illness lose more life years than women, with higher mortality rates from accidents and suicides among men with bipolar and substance use disorders. They suggest that interventions targeting lifestyle and behaviors, as well as early detection and appropriate treatment of common physical comorbidities, may help to reduce the burden of physical illness among people with mental health conditions and close the mortality gap.

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