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Coping With Addictions During The Lockdown: All You Need To Know

This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

By Gayatri Kotbagi and Rucha Satoor

“It’s been five days since I have run out of maal (weed). I am having a hard time falling asleep. Usually, I would smoke a joint with my friends on the katta and come home and crash. I just don’t know how I am going to survive for the next few weeks without my daily joint before bed.” 

As a clinical psychology researcher, it’s not alarming that I get to hear these words often. But with the COVID-19 lockdown, what is alarming is the frequency with which I get to hear this amongst my clients. In India, the announcement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi of a 21-days national lockdown due to COVID-19 has shut liquor and tobacco shops in most parts of the country. We’ve read reports about 30 deaths so far in the country as a consequence of people struggling with their addictions.

But What Exactly Is An Addiction? 

Representational image.

Addiction is not simply a ‘bad habit’, ‘a deplorable behaviour’ or a ‘sin’ but a neuropsychiatric disorder. Addiction is losing control over the consumption of a substance or a behaviour, despite harmful consequences. This loss of control leads to deprivation of liberty and an increase in the signs of withdrawal.

Addiction also leads to an obsession with ‘the quest’: ‘Where do I get my weed?’ ‘Where will I be able to consume this drink?’ ‘How long before I can get back to my video game?’ these thoughts form an obsessive, recurring pattern. For the person who is addicted, a lot of effort can go into feeding the habit.

In the times of COVID 19, just because individuals are confined to their homes, the pathology of addiction is not going to stop. On the contrary boredom, promiscuity, sense of helplessness, and insecurity are likely to weaken individuals and amplify their craving for the substance or the addictive behaviour.

Therefore, a lockdown is a paradox for an addict: you want to consume more to reduce your stress, but you’re less likely to get your bottle or joint.

Should We Fear An Increase In Addictive Behaviour?

Unfortunately, yes. The lockdown increases the risk of consumption both for people with an addiction problem but also for those who were only recreational users before.  The latter are people who are not a priori addicted, but who perhaps due to increased anxiety, stress or boredom start using more of the substance, especially alcohol. At the same time, those who are at risk of getting addicted may tend to weigh the effects of alcohol withdrawal symptoms against the likely risk of getting COVID-19.

These individuals may very well reason that the consumption of alcohol is likely to be less harmful than getting COVID-19. People’s decisions of resorting to substances depend a lot on the context of their lives. However, experts predict that risk-taking behaviours are likely to increase during the lockdown and fear that the complete closure of alcohol /tobacco shops may not be the right solution.

Along with increased addictions, we will also be witnessing a rise in withdrawal behaviours as people remain confined at home. Some broad symptoms of withdrawal can be anxiety, fatigue, sweating, vomiting, depression, and seizures. Having a person living with symptoms of withdrawal at home can be a challenge for those who live around them. Experiencing emotional and physical violence, frequent altercations and depressive episodes of people you love and care for can take a toll on one’s mental health.

Can Lockdown Help Misusers Of Alcohol And Tobacco? 

“I have to take care that I don’t run out of stock. So, I have reduced my consumption until there is some sort of solution to this lockdown.”

Of course, I believe that quarantine doesn’t just have negative consequences. Confinement can certainly be an opportunity to reflect on our behaviours, understand our motivations behind our relationship with substances. I had a client, a man in his fifties, tell me over the phone about how prudent he has become with his alcohol consumption. He now gets to spend time with his children, helps his wife at home and works from home whenever he can. All this has certainly reduced his craving for a late-night drink. But like I said, it heavily depends on the socio-economic context of the individual.

Would Smoking Aggravate COVID19? 

Yes. COVID-19 is a severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus. For people with a mild version of the virus will have symptoms of upper respiratory tract infection, those with a more severe version may end up with life-threatening pneumonia. So smokers (tobacco or marijuana) are more vulnerable to COVID-19 and may end up with worse lung conditions.

What About Behavioural Addictions? 

Apart from the poorest in society, we are hyper-connected these days given the circumstances. People forced to be inside due to the lockdown may end up with increased screen time- playing more online games, constantly taking in news related to the pandemic, binge-watching on OTT platforms. However, people must not be criticized or shamed for their problematic relationship with screens or the internet. They just need to be cautioned and offered help to deal with their internet addiction.

How Do I Cope With My Addiction During A Pandemic? 

  • Make Goals And Have A Plan To Achieve Those Goals

Set or agree on a goal (it need not be a big goal) defined in terms of the behaviour to be achieved. Identify specific triggers (e.g. altercation with a family member, watching alcohol and other substances being consumed on television or the internet, anxiety, etc) that generate the urge/want/need to drink. Develop strategies for avoiding these triggers or have a plan for what you would do to manage your negative emotions if you were exposed to such triggers, that motivate drinking or smoking.

Have an action plan: a list of meditations that work for you, physical activity, or make a list of friends and family you can reach out to who will help you stick to your goals. For example, I sign a behavioural contract with my therapist (this can also be a friend) that I won’t smoke for a week. Use words and phrases such as “I will”, “highly committed”, “strongly”, etc more frequently. The use of affirmative and re-affirmative phrases increases our self-efficacy and helps motivate us towards our goals.

  • Feedback And Monitoring

Monitor your behaviour as well as the outcome of your behaviour. Are you washing your hands frequently because of COVID-19, what is the outcome of that? Have you had to drink another glass of alcohol or smoke another joint? What was the outcome of that?

  • Social Support

Despite all the physical distancing, identify family and friends you can rely on. Their support can support you by hearing out your anxieties and keeping away the triggers

  • Virtual Support Groups

Having access to online support groups are ideal during these times. Find local or national Facebook groups, twitter handles or WhatsApp groups to be able to talk and connect with.

  • Shaping Knowledge

Many people are told what needs to be done and what should not be done. However, we are seldom told how to do it. Seek help to know how to keep a diary, how to stick to the plan you have made for yourself, what to do in case the plan fails. Learn how you can restructure your physical and social environment to achieve your goal. A mental health professional can help you to learn these skills.

  • Identification

Achieving the desired change in one’s behaviour may be an example to others. Therefore, making healthy choices for yourself may help those around you to do the same. You can also work on your incompatible beliefs by drawing attention to discrepancies between the current or past behaviour and self-image and understand how it creates discomfort. You may also write about your strengths (make a small rating scale for yourself with emojis on the two ends). You as well as those around you may help you change your identity by addressing you as an ex-smoker for example. You can successfully achieve the wanted behaviour, arguing against self-doubts and asserting that you can and will succeed.

Helplines You Can Reach Out To

Links to online Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings:

For psychosocial support you may contact:

NIMHANS toll-free no: 080-46110007.

MPowerMinds toll-free number: 1800-120- 82050

Fortis Stress Helpline: +918376804102



List of Mental Health Practitioners for Young Adults at Nominal Fee/Sliding Rates or Free created by Mahima Kukreja

Rucha Satoor is a part-time writer, part-time development professional who works in the areas of child rights, gender, caste, and sexuality.

Dr Gayatri Kotbagi is a clinical psychology researcher and  faculty at Symbiosis School of Liberal Arts, Pune and Bournemouth University, UK

You must be to comment.

    Beautifully explained every aspect and giving all information needed.

    1. Gayatri Kotbagi

      Thank you so much for your feedback.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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