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Alcohol intake during the COVID times has reduced across the country.

Till COVID19 struck India, alcoholic drinks were easily available except in states under prohibition, Gujarat and Bihar. Around 36% increase in liquor sales was taking place before the pandemic struck. Alcohol was a drink for unwinding, for socialising and celebrations as also for meeting business associates. Working ladies and girls were also being lured with targeted advertising campaigns. Bars, discotheques and microbreweries were having a booming business, especially on weekends. Even the ‘ahatas’, country liquor shops were blooming almost everywhere.          

The spate of lockdowns before the first wave changed all this. Consumers who loved to drink with friends were hit hard. The chronic alcoholics had withdrawal symptoms too. Bootleggers, initially down for a few weeks resumed their nightly service in a few places. Once the liquor shops were opened and rates hiked, there were long, serpentine queues. Social distancing was forgotten and large stocks bought as the bars were still shut. With night curfews still in place and work from home going strong, the trend of drinking inside the house started. Drinking alone or with a spouse or a kin.

alcohol intake
PC Medical News Today. Long queues and chaos outside Indian liquor stores when they reopened after Lockdown
Few TERMS Associated with Drinkers

Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD): This is a chronic disease, characterised by uncontrolled drinking and preoccupation with alcohol. Initially, it may be in a mild form. Over a period of time, repeated alcohol abuse leads to dependence and the urge to drink more to get the same ‘high’. The person could put their own safety and health at risk. Besides a huge monetary loss. 

Binge DrinkingDrinking 5 or more units of alcohol for Western men (4 for Indians) and 4 or more units for ladies (3 for Indians) in a 2 hour period is termed as Binge drinking. Frequent binge drinking has serious health issues.    

Chronic Alcoholism: It is a severe form of AUD, characterised by drinking alone, at any time of the day. The person feels guilty, but in India, they tend to go into denial and refuse treatment or even counselling.        

Alcohol Intake in COVID Times

Covid Stress in India. Covid has permanently affected our lives in many ways. Some people are more affected than others. Covid Stress Syndrome has been described by some scientists in persons having anxiety or depression leading to an increase in substance abuse. If the first wave was due to uncertainty and prolonged lockdowns, the second is compounded by fear of severe disease and death in people of all age groups.

Major Reasons for stress are many like loss of jobs or reduced earnings, increase in borrowings and inability to repay loans, loss of earning members, loss of life’s savings in treating near and dear ones, lack of a daily routine and feeling of boredom, having to stay alone for some category of students or those in jobs away from home, work from home culture, increased isolation, the uncertainty of further studies in the students in final years of schools or graduation, the uncertainty of getting a job for those who have completed their studies, additional stress on health workers and frontline workers, witnessing death and the cremations etc.    

People buying and stocking large quantities of Alcohol during Covid. P.C.
Effects of Alcohol Intake during COVID. 

Studies across the world revealed that alcohol sales increased by 50% to 100% in the year 2020. Data for India is not available but studies have reported that the first wave revealed a higher incidence of stress, suicides and substance abuse, including alcohol in India. Since the bars, pubs and desi liquor ships were shut, liquor stocks were purchased and stored at home. Such drinking can cause numerous ill effects in the families.

  • Drinking at home is unlimited as it is from prepaid stock unlike a bar or drinks with friends. Hence excessive drinking (with the increased expense) is the result. 
  • Drinking in front of children is becoming a new phenomenon in many families. It sets a bad example as children in their formative years feel that drinking is normal.
  • Binge drinking at home may lead to sociopathic behaviour. The brunt may be felt by the family in the form of domestic violence or marital rape.  
  • Poor decision making by persons of AUD resulted in difficulties in the homeschooling of their children. 
  • Incidences of anxiety and depression increase. As treatment for AUD is not taken/ easily available,  suicide rates increased. 
  • AUD people can’t exercise. Alcohol intake, with snacking added calories leading to obesity, or even diabetes or hypertension. 
  • Pregnant women who got initiated into drinking at home have a higher risk for stillbirths or babies with birth defects. 
  • Some adolescents were tempted to steal a drink or two from the liquor stock kept at home.           
Affect of Corona AUD Drinkers  

By now everyone is aware that the virus may not cause any symptoms in many cases. Over 80% of those having Corona symptoms may recover early with basic home treatment. People having AUD are likely to have a more severe disease than non-drinkers for the following reasons:

  • They have lower immunity.
  • Being obese due to excessive consumption of calories and lesser exercise.
  • Some long time cases would be having Diabetes or hypertension. Both are risk factors for severe disease.
Way Out

In the pandemic of the ‘Spanish flu’ of 1918- 1919, Whisky was one of the ‘treatments’ of the disease. Whisky in smaller quantities reduced anxiety and fear. It also sedated patients and health workers who had to work round the clock. A century later, we are better informed and aware of the ill effects of alcohol, especially if taken on a regular basis and in excess amounts.

It is advised that the awareness is built on the ill effects of alcohol. Alcohol should not be stored at home if at all a very small amount to be kept. If stored at home, it should be under lock and key and should not be consumed on a regular basis that too in front of children. Incidences associated with domestic violence should not be ignored. If any financial issues, then care to be taken to not to spend excessively on liquor. Helpline/ambulance numbers must be stored on the phone.

Title pic courtesy:Alcohol Abuse during Covid Times P.C.Medical News Today

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views of the Government of India and Defence Research and Studies

By Major General Krishan Chauhan (AMC)

Maj Gen Krishan Chauhan (Retd) Army Medical Corps., is the alumni of Sainik School Kapurthala, IG Medical College Shimla and AFMC Pune. Part of PG Community Medicine. He is a fellow of the Indian Public Health Association. He was part of core groups in establishing ECHS and ACMS Delhi. He was Addl DGMS Army prior retirement.