THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The lockdown of Bevco outlets and bars could trigger withdrawal symptoms among alcohol addicts in Kerala, which has the highest per capita alcohol consumption in the country.
The Excise Department's rough assessment is that 30 percent of the male population in the state are tipplers and the sudden stoppage of drinking could lead to a spike in social issues and domestic violence.
To deal with this precarious situation, the department has decided to offer help to people who might go bonkers in the absence of liquor.
The department is currently operating a chain of de-addiction centres under its wings. Named 'Vimukthi', each district has one hospital where 10 beds are reserved for this purpose. Department sources said they are planning to provide treatment to addicts, who exhibit withdrawal symptoms, in these facilities.
The department on being alerted will arrange transportation of people to these facilities and will provide them treatment.
Though there is no official data on the number of alcohol addicts in the state, Excise sources peg it around 1000-2000 chronic users who cannot abstain even for a day.
"This figure comes from the calculations made by officers at the grassroot level. They have prepared it by counting those who regularly makes a beeline before liquor outlets early in the morning," said a senior official from the Excise Headquarters here.
The official said the withdrawal symptoms could be very severe and need to be treated as a disease. "In severe cases, such people have to be provided liquor in small quantities initially to address the issue. But that cannot be done now. So, they will be given medication and kept on observation," the official said.
However, the department is in a fix as if there are more cases, they have to find an alternative, which they don't have right now. "The government policy is that COVID patients need to be given more attention. So, if there is a spike in cases of withdrawal symptoms and COVID, then we will have to forget the former," the official said.
Right now there are 140 dedicated beds across the state to treat people with withdrawal symptoms. However, if there is demand for more beds to treat COVID cases, then the Excise department will have to forgo some more beds.
"That's an unfortunate situation but it's possible," the officer said.
As of now, the department has not got any calls from distressed people. But the belief is that the menace could unfold within two days. "Drunkards can hoard alcohol that can be used for two to three days. After that there will be trouble," the official added.