Can moderate drinkers suffer from alcohol withdrawal during the coronavirus lockdown ban?

  • Having one drink a day won't lead to withdrawal if you suddenly stop drinking alcohol.
  • However, heavy drinking might cause some withdrawal symptoms.
  • Consult a healthcare professional if you suspect more serious withdrawal symptoms.

Having a glass or two of wine a day brings you nowhere close to being an alcoholic, but how much do you have to consume to risk suffering from alcohol withdrawal?

South Africans have been very vocal after the alcohol ban was reinstituted to fight the spread of Covid-19 – catching many off guard without the opportunity to stock up.

And it's no secret that South Africans are some of the heaviest drinkers in the world.

According to the Food-Based Dietary Guideline for South Africa, only one unit of alcohol per day for a woman and a maximum two for a man is recommended, although it's better not to consume alcohol at all.

One unit of alcohol 

One drink is defined as:

  • One bottle of beer
  • A glass of wine
  • One shot of hard liquor like whiskey, gin, rum and vodka

Heavy drinking, according to the US Centre for Disease Control, is defined as having eight or more drinks per week for women, and 15 or more drinks for men.

Binge drinking is when multiple drinks are consumed on one occasion, and according to the World Health Organisation, about 18.3% of the South African population partake in episodic binge drinking.

But how much do you need to be drinking to experience withdrawal if you're suddenly cut off?

READ | Covid-19: Alcohol ban will increase ICU capacity, but is not a long term solution – experts say 


If you really only drink one unit of alcohol a day, suddenly stopping won't have any real effect, except maybe psychologically.

But if you fall into the heavy drinking category, chances are you might experience at least one or two withdrawal symptoms, even if you don't consider yourself an alcoholic.

Symptoms generally appear about eight hours after your last drink, but can happen up to a few days later as well.

According to MedlinePlus, symptoms include:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Nightmares
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety or irritability
  • Increased heart rate
  • Nausea
  • Shaking
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Sweating

Some of these symptoms should be easy to ride out, but if you're experiencing more, and they carry on for more than a week, you should consult a doctor.

READ MORE | Latest in cancer prevention: move more, ditch beer and bacon

Serious withdrawal

If you're suffering from serious withdrawal, you may also experience fever, seizures and hallucinations. This is when your life could be in danger, and immediate professional healthcare should be sought.

According to the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (Sanca), serious withdrawal can last up to 15 days, after which you will require the help of tools like cognitive behavioural therapy to rewire the brain, which can take up to a year to have the desired effect.


In diagnosed cases of withdrawal, mild to moderate symptoms can normally be treated at home, although it is advised that a medical professional monitors your progress.

Serious withdrawal, however, requires hospitalisation or admittance to a rehabilitation centre like one run by Sanca, where a healthcare professional can look after you during recovery and administer medication when needed.

After withdrawal, you'll have to either reduce your drinking considerably or stop completely, depending on the severity of your situation and your doctor's advice.

READ | Fighting addiction in a pandemic: Is telemedicine the key?

Who you can contact to help fight addiction:

  • The Department of Social Development has a 24-hour helpline 0800 12 13 14. Alternatively, you can send an SMS to 32312 for online counselling and referrals.
  • Sanca National can be contacted on 011 892 3829, or WhatsApp 076 535 1701 during office hours for referral to Sanca centres for emergency treatment options.
  • Alcoholics Anonymous South Africa on 0861 435 722.
  • If you are not one for a 12-STEPS programme, try for a free online recovery programme.
  • Family members or loved ones of a person with an alcohol problem can contact Al-anon on 0861 252 666 for guidance.
  • If people don't have access to the internet, they can download free applications on their cellphones such as Sober Grid, Nomo-sobriety Clocks, SoberTool, WE Connect, AA Big Book and 12 STEPS Meditation Daily Reflections and Strides.

READ MORE | Scientists spot more genes linked to problem drinking

Image credit: Pixabay

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