Most states in south India have ordered closure of alcohol outlets during the lockdown.

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Coronavirus Coronavirus Wednesday, March 25, 2020 - 15:53

Ahead of the country-wide 21 day lockdown announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday evening, several states had already begun preparations for such a situation. State government officials have announced a list of essential services which would be available and functional during the lockdown period. The list includes basic necessities such as food, groceries, medicines and the like, but pubs and bars are shut. State governments including Tamil Nadu and Kerala have also shut down state owned alcohol outlets TASMAC and BEVCO, respectively. This brings up an interesting question: How would a lockdown of liquor shops affect the health of chronic alcoholics?

“Sudden withdrawal of alcohol for a chronic drinker can have immense effects on an individual. The individual may begin to experience mild to severe withdrawal symptoms. This may be something less intense such as a headache, irritability or mood swings, or can be more difficult to manage such as sleeplessness,” says Dr Shanti Ranganathan of the TTK Deaddiction Centre and Hospital in Chennai.

Alcoholism is an issue which has to be tackled with the right help. Here’s a look at what you can do to help a loved one who might be struggling during this particular period.

What are the symptoms of withdrawal to be on the lookout for?

The most immediate symptoms which might be noticed are significant mood swings and irritability. Nausea, vomiting, headache, tremors and sleeplessness are also important things to keep an eye out for. Milder symptoms such as mood swings or even slight tremors of the hand may be seen even within days of discontinuing alcohol, particularly in those who are more dependent on alcohol. More severe symptoms may include hallucinations, confusion, or raised blood pressure.

“In chronic drinkers who are heavily dependent on alcohol on a daily basis, withdrawal symptoms might show up earlier, within a day or two, of stopping drinking. Some individuals who are addicted to alcohol, but have a higher tolerance, may only begin to see symptoms after a few days,” Dr Shanti says. If someone is experiencing any of these symptoms, it may be necessary to get medical attention.

“We can definitely expect to see an increase in the number of people experiencing withdrawal symptoms. They should visit a general physician who will be able to prescribe them the right medications to help control any symptoms they experience,” says Dr Shanti. She adds that banning the sale of alcohol may be necessary during the lockdown period to prevent further spread of the disease, but says it may be beneficial to have specific clinics or centres for people to seek help for alcohol withdrawal. This particularly when hospitals and OPDs are high-risk zones for contracting the disease.

However, she has a warning. “Keep in mind that these are chronic alcoholics, so many of them have probably already stocked up supplies, or would have done so as soon as they realized that they would not be able to access alcohol during the lockdown.”

“With the right combination of counseling and medication, it is possible to help reduce the effects of withdrawal symptoms. This is what we advise people who are actively taking steps to stop drinking. They should take their medications properly, eat and sleep on time, take care of their physical health and stay hydrated,” says Dr. Shanti

What causes withdrawal symptoms?

Alcohol is a nervous system depressant. This means that it slows down brain function and the way the brain and nervous system coordinate to help you interpret and respond to your environment.

An individual who takes excessive amounts of alcohol on a regular basis increases their tolerance to it, and overtime requires larger amounts of alcohol to achieve the same level of functionality. If such an individual is suddenly deprived of alcohol, the levels of a chemical called dopamine fall dramatically and cause the resulting physical symptoms.