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Lockdown may be a good time to dry out

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‘There is much to be gained from an alcohol-free few weeks’

FOR SOUTH Africans who enjoy a daily sundowner, the extension of the national lockdown has sparked anxiety about rapidly dwindling supplies and the prospect of going dry until the end of April. 

But the good news is that those who enjoy a drink will probably cope better than they think – and it’s good for their health, and their pockets, too. 

South Africans’ reliance on their daily tipple, perhaps more than most would care to admit, is highlighted by a 500% spike in local Google searches on the alcohol ban and home-made booze recipes, and reports of bootlegging, bartering and supplies being traded on WhatsApp groups.

But those looking forward to replenishing their alcohol stocks on April 17 had their hopes dashed, when President Cyril Ramaphosa announced an extension of the lockdown to the end of April.

Those who consume two to three standard drinks a day are unlikely to experience severe withdrawal symptoms, said Dr Lize Weich, convener of the Substance Abuse Special Interest Group of the SA Society of Psychiatrists.

“The threat of a pandemic of a potentially fatal illness and its effects on the economy may increase stress, anxiety and depression rates, and some people will use substances like alcohol to try to cope, but there are healthier coping strategies,” she said.

Weich advised that it could help to mentally prepare for day-zero by cutting down on daily consumption.

“There is much to be gained from an alcohol-free few weeks – less calories consumed to compensate for not being able to exercise as before, saving money and improving general health and immunity.” 

Alcohol use affects virtually every organ in the body, contributes to mental health disorders and adversely affects the immune system, causing greater vulnerability to respiratory and viral infections, she said.

“The lockdown and threat of infection is a good motivator to improve overall health. Most people would want their lungs, airways and immune system to be functioning optimally.” 

Weich said that while studies had shown that mild alcohol use – two standard drinks a day for men and one for women – could be associated with a lower risk of vascular disease such as heart attack and stroke, the harm of alcohol use followed a steep J-curve, rapidly increasing its damaging effects, and potential for increased health problems and mortality.

For those who do experience significant withdrawal symptoms, she advised consulting a medical practitioner or using online medical help resources to avoid face-to-face contact if possible.

Resources for help:

Alcoholics Anonymous SA: 24/7 Helpline 086 143 5722. AA meetings have switched to online due to the coronavirus pandemic, and a list of online meetings is at www.aasouthafrica.org.za.

SA Depression and Anxiety Group 24/7 Helplines: 080 021 2223/080 070 8090. 

Sadag WhatsApp support (9am-4pm): 076 882 2775 or SMS 31393 or 32312 and a counsellor will call you back. 

Department of Social Development Substance Abuse 24-hour helpline: 080 012 1314 or SMS 32312.