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Lockdown woes: Tipplers have a tough time

NARAYANAN V Chennai | Updated on April 01, 2020

The nation-wide lockdown is already taking a severe toll on the health and mental state of alcoholics across the country. From depression and anxiety to violent behaviour and suicides, tipplers across the country are experiencing various degrees of withdrawal symptoms due to non-availability of alcohol.

“When a person is used to drinking alcohol everyday, his systems are used to it. So, when it is suddenly stopped, they will become nervous, jittery, anxious and will not be able to sleep well,” said Balaji Bharadwaj, Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research (JIPMER).

“Bodywise, they will have increased heartbeat, palpitation, tremors and sweating which are some of the alcohol withdrawal symptoms but in some cases, it can be even severe,” Bharadwaj added.

While the number of hospital admissions with alcohol withdrawal symptoms is on a steady rise in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, non-availability of alcohol seems to have claimed more lives in Kerala than the coronavirus itself. While two people have died due to coronavirus in Kerala, eight people, including six youngsters, have committed suicide due to non-availability of alcohol. Kerala has the highest per capita consumption of alcohol in the country.

“There is something called alcohol dependence syndrome. In the current situation, where the ‘alcohol dependents’ consuming less amount of alcohol than earlier, they tend to have tremors, irritability and reduced sleep,” said R Vasanth, Consultant Psychiatrist at Fortis Malar Hospital.

He also added that in some cases it may lead to a complication known as ‘delirium tremens’ — a severe form of withdrawal, where there is an altered state of consciousness with patients becoming disoriented, engaging in irrelevant talks and aggressive behaviour.

Many government hospitals, rural health centres and private de-addiction and rehabilitation centres in Tamil Nadu are also witnessing a spike in the number of enquiries for withdrawal symptom treatment.

“We are receiving too many calls from family members asking admission for withdrawal symptoms treatment. But we are unable to take so many new admissions because we can’t bring them now without proper diagnosis,” said J Richard Daniel, Founder of Stepping Stone Foundation, an alcohol & drug rehabilitation centre in Chennai.

Daniel, who also runs Corner Stone Alcohol & Drug Rehabilitation Center in the outskirts of the city, said taking fresh admission involves several medical tests in government hospitals (GH) and local health centres for which patients neither have time nor willingness at this point in time.

Revenue loss

According to Amrit Kiran Singh, Executive Chairman, International Spirits & Wines Association of India (ISWAI), the decision to shut retail alcohol shops is totally invalid for four major reasons.

“First, 20-30 per cent of the States’ revenue comes from alcohol, second, FSSAI Act itself defines alcohol as a food therefore it’s an essential commodity, third, black market for alcohol and hooch production has already begun and lastly alcohol is believed to be an antidote to coronavirus although there is no scientific evidence yet to prove that,” Singh said.

ISWAI is a representative body promoted by the multinational alcoholic beverage companies.

Singh further said that social distancing, which is practised for the sale of essential commodities, can also be replicated at retail liquor shops while bars can continue to remain shut.

But health experts also see a silver lining. Fortis’ Vasanth said this lockdown period can be used as an opportunity to lead an abstinent life. “There are two stages to come out of alcohol. One is the detoxification stage and the other is the rehabilitation stage,” Vasanth said adding that “in these 21 days, they can detoxify and come out of withdrawal and continue the period of abstinence and go to the rehab phase.”

Bharadwaj from JIPMER said affected persons can reach out to the local health centres to get detoxification medicines prescribed by the doctors. The medicines are not allowed to be sold over the counter (OTC).

“Since these (detoxification) medicines replace the effect of alcohol, they themselves are addictive in nature when given in the long term,” Bharadwaj warned, adding that the dose is typically given in a tapering manner over a period of 10-days to two weeks.

Published on April 01, 2020

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