From curiosity to enjoyment, from enjoyment to craving, from craving to dependency, from dependency to addiction...Let’s talk about alcohol. I have wanted to speak to you all for a while, and perhaps share a few thoughts, on an issue that I find to be of deepening concern. I wasn’t quite sure the right moment to speak had come. And yet, overdrinking has become too normalized, romanticised and glamourized to ignore any further. Drinking less is only logical. This is not exactly a letter to those that have their alcohol use under control - though even those in control, must remain vigilant, for they are nevertheless dealing with a dangerous substance. But most importantly, most pressingly, if the drink has come to drown you, fight! Remember that you are deserving and capable of a long-lasting solution; you deserve and have the capabilities, to save yourselves from the inevitable troubles of substance abuse....which will only multiply with time. New beginnings are attainable, and you, as a Rwandan, are a great living testament to your own power to redefine your fate. Splendidly shot TV advertisements show us beautiful, healthy and confident looking people having the time of their wonderful and desirable lives, because a glass of alcohol is in their hand. Movies depict alcohol abuse as a common, fun hobby. The songs that serenade us in both joy and sorrow speak of the bottle as of a heavenly, healing and empowering entity...as if the advanced effects of its contents are comical at worst. What a cruel farce. The reality is much different, especially when excess occurs. Unfortunately, it is true that conversations like these often strike a negative cord; they can come off as controlling, insensitive or judgmental. They shouldn’t be. Unhealthy choices are common because unfortunately, they can be tempting. But if there was ever a chance to protect you from the ache of regret...it should be seized. Yes, overdrinking may be a global, rising problem, but why shouldn’t we choose differently? Make no mistake: addiction is a disease, and the sick should be supported in improving their health. Still, they must confront their share of responsibility: acknowledgement of their problem and the pursuit of a solution. Giving up cannot be an embraced practice in a society that has refused to die. Should you be in need of professional help, of social support, of an attentive ear and open heart, please....do come to us. Regardless of unintentional lapses, you are loved faithfully. But to make the best use of the love you are offered, you must love yourself first. Know that self-esteem improves with discipline. Know that no one has ever regretted refusing to lose control. No one has ever awoken, after rejecting an unhealthy temptation, wishing they had in fact given in. The truth is – you will never regret not abusing the drink. So I pray it is there – that tiny voice within, that objects, that says NO, every time the drink begins to taste like oblivion. I pray it tells you, each time substance abuse and misuse become enticing, that your freedom was not hard fought and won, only for a debilitating substance, to shackle you once again. To those in denial on the real threats of alcoholism or alcohol abuse, ask yourselves: who is really being consumed here – the drink, or your very self, your health, and your pride, among others? Inzoga uyikura mu kibindi ikagukura mu bagabo. Inebriation is just self-harm masquerading as ephemeral happiness, while profound and authentic joy, shall always lead you on a brighter path. When the void within begins to ache, alcohol may give you the illusion of fullness. But in actuality, alcohol expands this void gradually, until there is nothing left. Medicine has indeed found that over time, alcohol decreases the brain’s release of the hormone responsible for your energy and happiness – dopamine - and that of your calm and clarity – serotonin. But would you think that depression is the worst that alcohol has to offer? It is not. Cruelly, alcohol kills daily, for eventually, your body can no longer fight against the poison it has been ingesting. And all the while, it robs you of all social currency and dignity as it eats away at your credibility, reliability, finances, relationships, focus and drive. Too often and too ruthlessly, it makes people once drawn to you eager to avoid you. Substance abuse chains and enslaves you into darkness. In your drowsiness, you may catch a glimpse of who you once were and what you could have been, wondering what took you to the hard place you are in today. Would your past self be proud or disappointed? It’s never too late to make a change. Introspect intentionally and in full honesty. Consider how often, how much, where, why, to what effect you drink, and if you feel discomfort, address it with a healthy solution. The truth is: there is wisdom in self-awareness and self-assessment. There is strength in moderation. There is grace in lucidity. There is power in abstinence. There is pride in self-control. To those who have implied that the change cannot rest solely on the shoulders of individuals, and should be met with a shift; you have been heard. Thank you for your honesty. There should be no reason for our children to lack activities beyond excess and debauchery; no reason for substance abuse to slither its way into our routines and supposed culture. It is indeed our will and mission, to develop spaces that offer our youth the colour and joy of entertainment, good health and balance, without the risk of substance abuse or addiction. We see the progress that Rwanda has made in this stride, and I promise you that we will not stop now. Nevertheless, remember that both the primary responsibility and final accountability over your choices rest on your own shoulders. As always, we are rooting for you! We have your back. You are not alone. We ask that you muster up every necessary effort, to involve yourselves in the campaigns that combat the threats to our youth’s mental and physical health. We ask that you keep sharing your insights on how to tackle this silent epidemic. We pledge our solidarity, our expertise, our resources, our love, to help lift those in need of uplifting, from the murky waters of alcohol dependency. Love yourself more intentionally, dream more, work harder and drink less. Families shattered, friendships laid bare, Alcohol's clutches, a relentless affair, But within this darkness, a glimmer remains, The strength to break free from these binding chains. The author is the First Lady of Rwanda.