Lockdown or lock-in? Fears of alcoholism, addiction in confinement
A musician plays saxophone for his neighborhood in Paris, on March 26, 2020 on the evening of the tenth day of a strict lockdown in France aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19, caused by the novel coronavirus.
AFP/Martin Bureau
Lockdown or lock-in? Fears of alcoholism, addiction in confinement
Stéphane Orjollet (Agence France-Presse) - March 27, 2020 - 8:11am

PARIS, France — "Another videoconference happy hour! I'm going to end up an alcoholic..." 

"At the office, I can't go downstairs to smoke over every little annoyance — but working from home, nobody knows!"

Whether they are tongue-in-cheek comments or anxious, existential questions, testimonials of this kind are now rife on social media.

With more than three billion people around the world living under lockdown, is it likely many people could turn to addiction while in coronavirus confinement?

Not necessarily — but many people are at risk, experts say.

"The links between traumatic stress and drug use are well-established," said Philippe Batel, a psychiatrist and head of the Charente addiction centre in southwestern France.

"People respond in the usual ways, such as painkillers, alcohol and recreational drugs," he said.

Elsa Taschini, psychologist and co-founder of the association Addict'Elles, says such a reaction can be expected even among people who do not suffer from addiction.

"In a confined situation, most of the strategies for coping with stress, such as sport or going out, no longer exist. But there is more and more stress. And the coping strategy that is still available is the use of substances," she explained.

In its recommendations for coping with stress during the pandemic, the World Health Organization advises: "Don't use smoking, alcohol or other drugs to deal with your emotions".

'A need for conviviality'

Some countries have taken drastic measures to avoid such abuse. South Africa will ban the sale of alcohol during its containment period from Friday, while Hong Kong has warned restaurants and bars to stop serving it. 

In France, however, tobacco shops — a major source of tax income -—as well as wine shops have remained open.

For smokers, there are simply too many opportunities to light up.

"When you are locked up, it is not the time to deprive yourself," says Bertrand Dautzenberg, secretary general of the French Alliance Against Tobacco. 

"The best thing to do is to replace it, put on patches or use substitutes, or an electronic cigarette," he said. 

"But we can also try to say to ourselves: This is a complicated moment, what can I do that is good? Quit smoking."

Nathalie Latour of the Addiction Federation said "we have to manage this issue of craving."

"We're seeing an increase in the number of virtual drink meet-ups, a need for conviviality and decompression that goes hand-in-hand with alcohol consumption," she said.

It's important to "avoid falling into the pattern: conviviality equals alcohol, stress equals alcohol," she added. 

The longer the lockdown lasts, the more the negative effects are likely to be felt, warns Philippe Batel at the Charente addiction centre.

"Consumption can be a response to a waiting period. We tell ourselves: 'It will calm me down and allow me to put things at a distance'," he said. 

"But as time goes by, there is less and less of a calming effect and the expected benefit shifts" to depression and anxiety induced by drinking too much, Batel said.

Not a joke

Deep down, people are aware of the dangers of overindulging during the lockdown, said Taschini of Addict'Elles. 

"If we make so many jokes, it's because in fact we know that it's not really a joke," she said, pointing to the numerous humorous videos posted online.

Taschini suggests these "stress moderators" may not fit in with other activities that can be soothing in confinement, such as watching movies or reading.

Then there is the question of how millions of recreational drug users are coping during the pandemic, when finding supplies may become difficult.

"At the beginning of the lockdown there were almost no dealers moving around, but they have reorganised," said one 24-year-old Parisian student who wished not to be named. 

"You have to order the day before, in larger quantities, but they've resumed business."

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: September 27, 2020 - 5:24pm

Follow this page for updates on a mysterious pneumonia outbreak that has struck dozens of people in China.

September 27, 2020 - 5:24pm

An overnight curfew in Australia's second-largest city will be lifted this week, officials said Sunday, even as the global coronavirus toll inched towards one million dead.

Despite the number of infections worldwide passing 32 million — with the US state of New York reporting a fresh spike — more than 10,000 anti-lockdown protesters demonstrated in central London ahead of the re-imposition of restrictions there.

In more positive news, residents of the Chinese city of Wuhan — where the virus emerged last year — reported a hesitant return to normalcy, while the French Open got underway at Roland Garros in Paris.

In Australia, Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said Melbourne residents would be free from Monday to leave their homes for work, exercise, shop for essentials, or provide care after active cases in the state fell below 400 for the first time since June 30.

The relaxation of the curfew, imposed August 2, comes after 16 new infections and two deaths were reported Sunday. — AFP

September 27, 2020 - 9:26am

France will face a months-long coronavirus epidemic that will overwhelm its health system if something does not change, one of the country's top medical figures warns Sunday.

"The second wave is arriving faster than we thought," Patrick Bouet, head of the National Council of the Order of Doctors, tells the weekly Journal du Dimanche.

Fresh restrictions to slow the spread of the disease in the country's worst-hit areas, including the Mediterranean city of Marseille and the Paris region, have run into local resistance.

Bouet told the paper that warnings delivered this week by Health Minister Olivier Veran had not gone far enough.

"He didn't say that in three to four weeks, if nothing changes, France will face a widespread outbreak across its whole territory, for several long autumn and winter months," Bouet says. — AFP

September 26, 2020 - 4:13pm


The Philippines surpasses the 300,000-mark, with 2,747 new COVID-19 infections registered on Saturday.

88 individuals died and 787 recovered from the deadly virus.

September 25, 2020 - 4:10pm

The Department of Health reports 2,630 new cases of the coronavirus disease, bringing the national tally to 299.361.

69 have succumbed to the deadly virus while 494 have recovered. 

September 25, 2020 - 7:14am

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 978,448 people since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP at 1100 GMT on Thursday.

At least 31,975,020 cases of coronavirus have been registered. Of these, at least 21,891,500 are now considered recovered.

The tallies, using data collected by AFP from national authorities and information from the World Health Organization (WHO), probably reflect only a fraction of the actual number of infections. — AFP

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