by Yokany Oliveira

WITH the sale and buying of alcohol off limits as part of the state of emergency regulations, many regular drinkers may find it an uphill battle to relax without their favourite beverage.

A wellness centre has urged those struggling with drinking habits to use this period for positive change – even after the two-month long alcohol ban is possibly lifted on 2 June.

Cornerstone Wellness Centre in Windhoek offers support to people struggling with substance abuse and says alcoholics, or those struggling with alcohol, should seek professional help and make use of family support where available.

The centre’s owner, Natalie Bezuidenhout, who is also a social worker, said the ban can lead to positive changes.

“It can have one of two effects: Either the individual will stop drinking completely or will continue drinking and may overindulge,” she says.

According to Bezuidenhout there is a difference between social drinkers and people who depend on alcohol.

“Social drinkers usually only drink at social events and are not dependent on alcohol, whereas alcoholics cannot go without alcohol because their bodies need it to function,” she says.

But even social binge drinkers fear they may go back to their old drinking habits after the ban is lifted.

Windhoek resident and IT specialist, *John (29), who considers himself a social binge drinker, has been on the fence about quitting alcohol. He had been sobering up for religious reasons before the initial lockdown started on 27 March.

“It’s nice to see you can go so long without alcohol. I may not drink as much after the ban is lifted,” he says.

He says the ban has made him crave alcohol less the longer it continues.

“I bought a couple of Radlers [with low alcohol content] and had some booze at home, but didn’t go out of my way to buy booze, because the prices are inflated,” he says.

This is not the case for another Windhoek resident, *Tina.

Less than two weeks after the alcohol ban was announced, her stash of booze had run out.

The 24-year-old who is studying pharmacology, says she then found herself purchasing overpriced alcohol on the black market.

She considers herself a regular drinker and says she was distraught when the ban was announced, but saw an opportunity to sober up as her drinking habits had become a problem.

“I don’t think I crave alcohol, but I definitely need it to deal with some of my feelings,” she says, adding alcohol has helped her cope with social anxiety.

Tina says she had already been struggling with poor mental health, and being at home a lot makes alcohol consumption even more tempting, despite having work to do.

“The problem with banning alcohol is that it doesn’t help unless people are actively trying to better their mental health. If people can’t get alcohol legally, they’ll find other ways,” she says.
According to Alcohol.org , a person with toxic drinking behaviour may face:

– Anxiety and loneliness. This could be brought on by social distancing and being instructed to remain at home.

– An alcohol-related decrease in immune health and an increased susceptibility to certain infections.

– Drastically restricted access to alcohol, causing withdrawal symptoms.

The World Heath Organisation (WHO) in a statement last month reminded people that alcohol consumption does not protect anyone from Covid-19.

“Alcohol consumption can exacerbate health vulnerability, risk-taking behaviours, mental health issues and violence,” the organisation warned.

The WHO also discouraged any relaxation of regulations to allow the sale of alcohol during the global pandemic.

The Cornerstone Wellness Centre team has urged the government to use this opportunity to introduce new methods of controlling and regulating the use of alcohol in the country.

Lowered immune system

A report issued by Africa Check, a fact-checking organisation based in South Africa, in April said several studies have found that drinking alcohol – especially binge drinking – damages the immune system and the respiratory system’s defences against infection.

Covid-19 can lead to pneumonia and other respiratory-related complications.

The ‘Alcohol Research: Current Reviews’ says there is evidence that alcohol “disrupts immune pathways in complex and seemingly paradoxical ways”.

According to the journal, these disruptions can impair the body’s ability to defend itself against infections, contribute to organ damage and delay recovery from tissue injury.

The journal linked alcohol consumption and pneumonia to pulmonary diseases such as tuberculosis, respiratory syncytial virus, and acute respiratory distress syndrome.

Bezuidenhout said people struggling with alcohol withdrawal should seek medical and professional advice as soon as possible.

“Alcoholics should use this period of abstinence to rehabilitate from alcohol. They should not feel ashamed to ask friends and family for help,” she says.

*Not their real names

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