Is the thought of your rapidly-dwindling supply of booze sending you into a mini panic attack?
Your anxiety isn't unfounded. Just last week Google saw a 500 percent spike on searches on the alcohol ban and homemade booze recipes.
But if you consume two to standard three drinks a day, you're unlikely to experience severe withdrawal symptoms, says Dr Lize Weich, convener of the Substance Abuse Special Interest Group of the South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP). Weich did however point out that some may experience “some subjective discomfort”.
“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.
And although the prospect seems daunting, she did advise that it's best to mentally prepare for “day zero” by cutting down on daily consumption to make stocks last and seeing the situation in a positive light.
“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," added Weich.
“We live in a rushed society, with lots of stressors and demands, and many people get into a habit of using substances like alcohol to cope, to obtain chemical relief from all the stress. Now may be the perfect time to develop skills to cope with these stressors in a healthier way,” she said.
Weich suggested strategies such as mindfulness, meditation, home-based exercise and healthy distractions like hobbies and reading, or learning a new skill, and drawing on the wealth of online resources for how-to and self-help.
“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 amidst the threat of Covid-19 infection, and avoiding or reducing alcohol and tobacco intake can potentially aid in this", she also advised.
While studies had shown that mild alcohol use, two standard drinks a day for men and one for women, could be associated with lower risk of vascular disease such as heart attack and stroke, the harm of alcohol use follows 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 – such as increased anxiety, difficulty sleeping, physical symptoms like tremors, headaches, sweating or nausea, or more severe effects such as hallucinations or seizures – Weich advised consulting a medical practitioner or using online medical help resources to avoid face-to-face contact if possible.
Alcoholics Anonymous SA: 24/7 Helpline 0861 435 722. AA meetings have switched to online due to the coronavirus pandemic, and a list of online meetings is at https://www.aasouthafrica.org.za/Meetings.aspx
SA Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) 24/7 Helplines: 0800 21 22 23 / 0800 70 80 90
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 Line 24hr helpline: 0800 12 13 14 or SMS 32312