Sudden alcohol ban could be dangerous, warn addiction experts

The renewed booze ban will not necessarily be healthy for addicts, experts warn. Stock photo.
The renewed booze ban will not necessarily be healthy for addicts, experts warn. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/Vladislavs Gorniks

The renewed alcohol ban may reduce the flow of trauma patients to hospitals during the Covid-19 peak, but its abrupt withdrawal is not necessarily good news for alcoholics.

An abrupt withdrawal of alcohol could result in a loss of consciousness or seizures for those who are addicted to it, said Taku Mhonyera, head of addiction treatment and a counsellor at Crossroads Recovery Centre in Johannesburg on Monday.

“Those who are properly into alcohol addiction can get withdrawals, which can be quite dangerous. You can end up having seizures and other medical problems. They might try to figure out what other drug can be a substitute,” said Mhonyera.

“People will be resourceful and make their own alcohol, but that’s dangerous because most don’t know what they are doing and could poison themselves.

“The black market is now open, from the point in time when normal avenues are shut off. You see people buying booze for more money than before. When consumers are desperate, the black market will thrive.”

He said to deal with addiction or a lack of access to alcohol, people should rather focus their energy on something empowering.

“Rather than soothing their emotions and drowning their sorrows, they can maybe upskill if at risk of losing a job for example. Outgrow the tendency and focus more on what will benefit you in the long run,” he said.

“Contact professionals. If you are addicted, it means you can’t do this by yourself any more. Come into a centre and get treatment and deal with the underlying issues.”

Mhonyera said most people did not recognise their addiction because there was not much stigma attached to alcohol abuse.

“Because alcohol is legal and is generally associated with functions like weddings, parties and funerals, there is a greater social acceptability. But alcohol probably causes more damage than other drugs. Even people who do other drugs [mix them] with alcohol.”

David Collins, addiction and recovery coach at The Foundation Clinic, also in Johannesburg, said the ban could prove both good and bad, depending on a person's level of dependency.

“People will start buying alcohol illegally again and brewing their own booze. For some, this is a chance to stay away from alcohol. The people that are problem drinkers will make a plan for their drink. People who don’t have a problem will be able to ride the storm,” said Collins.

“If someone is physically dependent, they need a medical detox — to receive medication. That is for severe cases but a majority of people are not like that.”

He said most people were social drinkers who gained the confidence to express themselves while under the influence.

“People also get drunk and commit crimes. We need to upskill people with the ability to have conversations and find solutions to the problems they [use to] justify drinking.

“One would hope people would go to the church, but the church can be judgmental, so they go to Alcoholics Anonymous groups. People don’t often make use of those resources.”

Lebo Munzhelele, a senior social worker at iThemba Alcohol and Drug Rehabilitation Clinic in Krugersdorp, west of Johannesburg, said people need to accept alcohol abuse for what it is: a problem.

“People convince themselves that they are social drinkers, but most of it is denial. People need to stay without it. Alcohol abuse causes nothing but destruction in people's lives. Most of the patients we get are for drugs, but hardly [for] alcohol — because people don’t think it’s a problematic addiction.

“Leaving alcohol abruptly like this [after Sunday's announcement], it’s not safe. They need to get help as soon as possible,” added Munzhelele.

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