Psychiatrists, NGOs in Mumbai flooded with calls from addicts during coronavirus lockdown
City psychiatrists say they are flooded with calls from people with addictions who are suffering from withdrawal symptoms. With the lockdown cutting off people’s access to a wide variety of products, including addictive substances like alcohol, cigarettes, drugs and chewing tobacco, addicts are reporting a range of symptoms including headache, anxiety, stomach cramps, hallucinations, insomnia and others.
According to experts, in severe addicts, withdrawal symptoms manifest after 24 to 72 hours of not being able to consume the addictive substance. Some police stations have reported alcoholics calling them, begging for alcohol. Most of these callers belonged to the 50 years-and-above age group, said a deputy commissioner of police, requesting anonymity. Psychiatrists say that in most cases, they have been contacted by the addicts themselves and many patients have been admitted to civic-run and private facilities.
Dr Ajita Nayak, head of the psychiatry department and the de-addiction centre at KEM Hospital, said, “Every day we receive at least two calls from people experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Most calls are from people dependent on alcohol and experiencing sleeplessness, tremors, hallucinations among other symptoms. We administer anti-withdrawal, anti-craving medication, among others medicines to stabilise them.”
Dr Nilesh Shah, head of the psychiatry department at Sion Hospital, said, “We have admitted five to six alcoholics who had serious withdrawal symptoms and treated them.”
Psychiatrist Yusuf Matcheswala said that over 100 addicts have called him to complain of withdrawal symptoms. “Most were alcohol addicts while the other were related to drugs and tobacco,” said Matcheswala. Psychiatrist Dr Sagar Mundada said he had received around 20 calls related to addiction. “The problem is that addicts approach doctors with an intention to fix their withdrawal symptoms, and not with an aim to quit addiction,” said Dr Mundada.
Varsha Vilas, general secretary of Maharashtra De-addiction Council, said, “From the conversations with individuals who have contacted us, I fear that these people would go a step ahead in terms of consuming more alcohol once the lockdown is lifted.”
The HITGUJ helpline, 022-24131212, is a 24-hour, telephonic counselling service run by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai. The helpline comes under the department of psychiatry at KEM Hospital.