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: March 28, 2020 - 6:29pm

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

March 28, 2020 - 6:29pm

Iran announces that 139 more people had died from the novel coronavirus, raising the official death toll to 2,517 in one of the world's worst-affected countries.

Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour says in a press conference that 3,076 more cases had been confirmed in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of infections to 35,408. — AFP

March 28, 2020 - 3:53pm

Actress Iza Calzado tested positive for the coronavirus disease, her manager says.

March 28, 2020 - 1:30pm

Toyota Makati Inc. announces that a team member tested positive for COVID-19.

"The safety and security of our employees, customers, and all of our stakeholders, is paramount to us. Keeping this in mind, and under the guidance and support of the relevant national and local authorities, we are taking immediate and comprehensive actions necessary, including disinfection of the dealership, to prevent any spread of the virus," the company says.

"Furthermore, all employees who have had close contact with the infected member have been quarantined," it adds.

March 28, 2020 - 10:43am

The United States now has more than 100,000 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, a tracker maintained by Johns Hopkins University shows.

There have been 100,717 cases including 1,544 deaths as of 6:00 pm Eastern time (2200 GMT).

The biggest cluster by far is in New York, home to almost half the cases, overwhelming the hospital system. — AFP 

March 28, 2020 - 9:08am

Manila Development Authority General Manager Jojo Garcia has tested positive for the coronavirus disease.

“I wish to inform everyone that I will have to work from home as I have been found positive for COVID-19,” Garcia says in a statement.

“I embrace this challenge with full trust and faith in God that I will overcome the same with your prayers,” he adds.

  • Latest
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with