1.2 Million Ugandans Grappling with Alcohol Use Disorder

Ugandans watching TV in a bar. PHOTO/AFP

The Division of Mental Health at Uganda’s Health Ministry has reported that a staggering 1.2 million Ugandans aged 15 and above are grappling with Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). AUD is described by scientists as a medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to control alcohol use, even when faced with adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.

Dr. Hafsa Lukwata, the Assistant Commissioner for Mental Health and Control of Substance Abuse at the Ministry, emphasized the need to provide care for these individuals to enable them to regain productivity.

She stated, “We are also seeing an increasing rate of people with alcohol use disorders. We have found that over 60 percent of Ugandans are using alcohol. I have been told that 40 percent of the population are taking alcohol daily.”

Dr. Lukwata further highlighted that due to the rising alcohol consumption, there are those in need of rehabilitation or treatment. She mentioned, “We are also seeing that 7.4 percent of people have alcohol use disorder, meaning they have become so dependent on alcohol that they require care to function. They cannot do anything without taking alcohol.”

Furthermore, Dr. Lukwata pointed out that Uganda has the highest prevalence of alcohol use in Africa, which has adverse implications for the country’s development.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported in August that Ugandans currently consume more than 12 liters of pure alcohol per year per capita. Less than 50 percent of the population currently consumes alcohol, indicating that those who do drink tend to consume excessive amounts. This situation prompted WHO to call for immediate action to address the issue.

The per capita alcohol consumption in Uganda significantly exceeds the African region’s average of 6.3 liters and the global average of 6.18 liters per person per year, as reflected in the WHO global status report on alcohol and health for 2018.

A recent study in Mbale, representative of the situation in other parts of the country, found that 25 percent of children aged six to 13 were using alcohol. Dr. Joyce Nalugya-Sserunjogi, a psychiatrist at Makerere University College of Health Sciences, noted that both girls and boys are consuming alcohol at nearly the same rate.

Dr. Lukwata attributed the high consumption to weak alcohol control laws and elevated stress levels in the population. She also highlighted that alcohol and drug units in Butabika Hospital and other regional referral hospitals are either full or overwhelmed with individuals seeking care.

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