Alcoholics can still find help but may face a rough ride during South Africa’s 21-day shutdown.
As part of the shutdown, all liquor outlets closed on Thursday evening, forcing thousands of South Africans to go “cold turkey” on their booze habits.
Police have vigilantly acted on those trying to buy and sell booze, arresting more than 55 people over the weekend, but experts said this would likely become a desperate time for a smaller part of the population whose alcohol dependence was clinical and potentially deadly.
Rehab centres are closing their doors to new patients in accordance with the shutdown, but organisations are using remote ways to give help to desperate patients during this period.
Psychiatrist Dr Jan Chabalala said he had already begun to see signs that the shutdown was taking its toll on troubled South African homes, with increased reports of domestic disputes. He partially attributed this to some of the frustrations which arise from alcohol dependent individuals being cut off from alcohol.
According to the World Health Organisation, South Africa’s drinkers consumed 28.9 litres of alcohol per capita per year. This made South Africans the fifth-heaviest drinkers in the world.
“There are people who have been drinking alcohol for a long time and they go into a state called delirium tremens, which is an acute confusional state brought on by the sudden lack of alcohol on an alcohol dependent person,” said Chabalala.
“It can end with serous complications like a disease called Korsakoff syndrome where the nervous system is affected because it is used to being soaked in alcohol. It is like a type of dementia.”
Symptoms of delirium tremens include high blood pressure, sweating and tremors, but only for a small population of drinkers was this a life-threatening risk.
According to an anonymous Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) board member, the organisation was being inundated with calls for people who needed help following the shutdown and he expected the situation to worsen.
The AA hotline can be reached on 086 1435 722.