While the drying up of alcohol during the country’s lockdown has brought an end to the usual sundowners such as wine, brandy or whisky, the good news, maintains a substance abuse expert, is that people can cope better with stress and relaxation than they think – something good for good health and their pockets…
Dr Lize Weich, convenor of the Substance Abuse Special Interest Group of the South African Society of Psychiatrists (Sasop), said there was much to be gained from a few alcohol-free weeks: less calories consumed to compensate for not being able to exercise as before, saving money and improving general health and immunity.
“We live in a rushed society, with lots of stressors and demands. Many people get into a habit of using substances like alcohol to cope, to obtain chemical relief from all the stress,” said Weich. “Now may be the perfect time to develop skills to cope with these stressors in a healthier way.”
Weich said 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, homemade booze recipes, reports of bootlegging, bartering and supplies being traded on WhatsApp groups.
People consuming two to three drinks a day are unlikely to experience severe withdrawal symptoms, although they may experience “some subjective discomfort”.
Weich advised that it could help to mentally prepare for “day zero” by cutting down on daily consumption, making stocks last and “seeing the situation in a positive light”.
Alcohol affects nearly every organ in the body
She warned that alcohol use affected virtually every organ in the body and contributed to mental health disorders, adversely affected the immune system and caused greater vulnerability to respiratory and viral infections.
“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,” Weich observed.
“There is the added benefit of cost savings in the difficult economic times ahead, as well as limiting social contact and risk of contracting the disease by reducing the need for going out to shop.”
People experiencing significant withdrawal symptoms – such as increased anxiety, difficulty sleeping, physical symptoms like tremors, headaches, sweating or nausea – should consult a medical practitioner or make use of online medical help resources to avoid face-to-face contact, if possible.
Where to find help:
Those with alcohol-related problems can contact Alcoholics Anonymous SA on helpline 0861-435-722, or call the SA Depression and Anxiety Group on helplines 0800-21-22-23 or on WhatsApp support on 076-882-2775.
Brian Sokutu – Citizen