South Africa has banned the sale and transportation of alcohol during the coronavirus lockdown. That seems like a bad idea. Heavy drinkers could be slammed into withdrawal symptoms. If a heavy drinker is abruptly cut off from alcohol, they may require hospitalization, thereby increasing the number of trauma cases requiring emergency care.
The decision to ban alcohol in South Africa has roots in stigma. This stigma is a socio-cultural process in which alcoholics are traditionally devalued, rejected, and excluded. Alcoholism, like other addictions, is a chronic disease affecting the brain. This, in turn, leads to dysfunction in the physical, mental, emotional, and social aspects of a person’s life. It is my opinion that people who suffer from alcohol dependence are just as valuable as people who suffer from Covid19. They should be treated as such, rather than be subject to a harsh withdrawal.
The ban has its roots in good intentions. Alcohol is involved in, or responsible for, at least 40% of all emergency hospital admission. It is estimated that 34,000 trauma cases present to hospital emergency rooms in South Africa. If you eliminate alcohol, you’ll allow room for Covid19 patients. It will prevent drunken fights as well as reduce domestic violence and driving accidents. They predict that if the ban on alcohol sales was lifted, they would have about 5,000 new admissions in trauma units each week.
Who doesn’t enjoy a cold beer on a hot day or a good wine paired with your meal on occasion? Alcohol can provide a sense of well-being, may deaden pain, or reduce social anxiety. But the downside is that alcohol can cause impulsive behavior, poor concentration, fatigue, poor balance, poor coordination, confusion, poor memory, poor judgment, slurred speech. Worse yet, however, it can require a medically dangerous withdrawal. It can shrink the brain and cause liver and heart damage, birth defects, and seizures. One can die of alcohol overdose.
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome occurs when a person abruptly stops drinking after heavy alcohol use and may trigger life-threatening health complications. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can occur as early as two hours after your last drink. Typically, symptoms will peak within the first 24 to 48 hours upon cessation. This is when you may experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, such as insomnia, rapid heartbeat, changes in blood pressure, sweating, tremors, and fever.
Alcohol can affect your immune system. If you drink every day or almost every day, you might notice that you catch colds, flu, or other illnesses more frequently than people who don’t drink. This is because alcohol can weaken the immune system and make the body more susceptible to infections. You are more vulnerable to a negative Covid19 outcome. It can cause acute respiratory distress syndrome.
People who are dependent upon alcohol will find a way to continue drinking, whether legal or not. It’s no surprise that an unintended consequence of the ban in South Africa is an underground swell of illegal activity. Police are reported to be harsh in the crackdown of anyone who is dealing or carrying alcohol. In communities in which people are unable to put food on the table, they may turn to home breweries to make a living.
The World Health Organization advises you to avoid alcohol altogether. If you drink, keep it to a minimum. The CDC, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, defines moderate drinking as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. Heavy drinking occurs when women have eight or more drinks a week and men have fifteen or more drinks per week.