Surviving the ban on alcohol sales.

Surviving the ban on alcohol sales.


In South Africa, the top 10% of drinkers drink 70.3% of the alcohol, and up to 12,4% have an alcohol use disorder [i]. The ban on alcohol sales during the 21-day shutdown may seem like a good idea, but for a person dependent on alcohol, rapidly stopping drinking can cause significant health problems and even death.
People are at risk of developing withdrawals if they drink regularly or binge drink. Withdrawal starts 6-14 hours after the last drink and can last from 5-14 days, peaking at around days 2-5. Signs of withdrawal include anxiety, a fever, restlessness, nausea, insomnia and tremors.
Delirium tremens (the DTs) can result in death for up to 4% of people[ii]. The signs of the DTs are: severe confusion, nervous or angry behaviour, extreme hyperactivity, hallucinations, sleep disturbances, fever, high blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, excessive sweating and dehydration
People withdrawing from alcohol may need to be hospitalised, increasing the burden on the health system and exposes them and other patients to risk. The shutdown and restriction of sales could be for several months.

Our advice is:

  1. Store a stash of alcohol for someone who may need it.
  2. Be aware of who drinks alcohol, how much and how often. When they run out, watch for signs of withdrawal.
  3. If you have a family member who is at risk, gently encourage them to reduce their drinking slowly over time.
  4. If they run out of alcohol, give them just enough to avoid withdrawal. Ration the alcohol to make it last as long as possible.
  5. If there is a risk of running out, try to reduce the dose by a small amount daily.
  6. Support them in the process.

If they show signs of severe withdrawal and delirium, call an ambulance immediately. Do not wait to see if symptoms get better.
These are challenging times. Be caring, kind and compassionate.
Remain physically distanced and socially engaged.

[i] Pamela J. Trangenstein (5 Dec. 2018.). Heavy drinking and contextual risk factors among adults in South Africa: findings from the International Alcohol Control study. Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy. Retrieved from https://substanceabusepolicy.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13011-018-0182-1

[ii] Schuckit MA.. (2014). Recognition and management of withdrawal delirium (delirium tremens). – PubMed – NCBI. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25427113.

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