Alcohol use is a global health concern, ranking seventh among the leading causes of death and disability.  Alcohol consumption is associated with many serious illnesses including liver cirrhosis, dementia, cerebellar ataxia, nutritional deficiency, etc and it is also a major risk factor for road traffic accidents. Despite these health hazards, alcohol consumption is common in India and rest of the world. Here, I discuss specific issues of alcohol consumption in relation to the corona virus disease 19 (Covid 19) caused by SARS-CoV 2 virus, which has been declared a pandemic by the WHO.

1. Drinking Alcohol does not Prevent Corona Virus disease

It is a myth that drinking alcohol would prevent corona virus disease.

2. Chronic Alcohol Consumption can increase the Risk of Getting Corona Virus Disease

Regular alcohol consumption over a long period of time can weaken one’s immune system, making them more prone to develop infections, including Covid 19.

3. Increased Risk of Developing Alcohol Withdrawal Seizures and Delirium during Lockdown

Some people become dependent on alcohol and they consume alcohol on a daily basis, often alone, mostly in early mornings or sometimes multiple times per day. This group is more prone to develop alcohol withdrawal symptoms, when alcohol consumption is suddenly stopped due to a situation such as complete lockdown.

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually begin within 24-48 hours of the last alcoholic drink. Mild symptoms include tremors of hands, sweating; sleep disturbance, anxiety, palpitations, etc. In some severe cases, seizures or fits can also develop. Severe cases of alcohol withdrawal are severe agitation, disorientation, restlessness, hallucinations, sweating, increased heart rate, high BP, etc and is referred to as delirium tremens (DT). DT usually develops 48-96 hours after the last drink.

It is a medical emergency requiring hospitalization and treatment, as it can be fatal if left untreated. Treatment includes hydration with IV fluids, thiamine supplements, benzodiazepines and anti-epileptic drugs as needed.

4. Increased risk of suicides during lockdown

Certain people, who are habituated to regular drinking, get frustrated when they are unable to drink. There has been an increase in the number of suicides after the lockdown started in various parts of the world, including India.

Dr Sudhir Kumar MD DM

Apollo Hospitals, Hyderabad

Published by Dr Sudhir Kumar MD (Medicine) DM (Neurology)

I am a doctor with 25 years experience. I have worked as a neurologist for about 20 years. Educating public and healthcare professionals is very dear to me. This is possible due to my interactions with thousands of patients and their caregivers. I salute the patients who suffer and it is our duty to minimise suffering by preventing diseases and ensuring prompt diagnosis and treatment of those already affected.

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