Umuhoza is a recovering alcohol addict who started drinking alcohol in high school. The habit started as influence from friends, something that later turned into full blown addiction.
In company of her friends, they would party and she would always do what they did—mostly drinking.
A few days into her drinking habit, Umuhoza felt like alcohol consumption was under control since nothing ‘scary’ had happened. But little did she know that her new hobby would cause disaster in her life.
Two years down the road, Umuhoza became an alcohol addict; she could barely focus without alcohol.
“I could not stop thinking about alcohol, I was always plotting on how I would smuggle it in school. It affected my academics, I was later expelled from school because of my inability to meet the school’s performance standards,” she narrates.
Children with absent parents are likely to develop behavioral issues, which set them on a path to self-destruction. Net photos
With no choice left, her family consequently took her to a rehabilitation centre, where she embarked on her recovering journey.
Alcohol, among other vices, has proved to be a mounting issue affecting society today.
A survey carried out by Rwanda Biomedical Centre last year showed that 1.6 per cent suffered from drug and alcohol related disorders.
In 2012, the Ministry of Youth and University of Rwanda’s College of Medicine and Health Sciences, conducted research which showed that more than 50 per cent of youth consumed one or more drugs, 7.6 per cent of them were addicted to alcohol.
Bill Bekunda, a recovery coach, says that there are so many factors that push people to abuse alcohol; like peer pressure, the desire to have fun, numbing emotions, need for sleep, feeling ‘mature’ or to not feel out of place, and escaping realities like poverty, stress, depression and anxiety, to mention a few.
The effects of this spread to almost every aspect of life, such as work, family and one’s social life.
In a previous interview with The New Times, Dr Alfred Ngirababeyi, the head of psychiatric care at Huye Isange Rehabilitation Centre, said that drug dependence has effects that ultimately end up disrupting one’s daily productive life.
He said that most patients share a similar cause to their addiction, noting that some of these trigger factors include lack of parental care, growing up in mono-parental homes and peer influence, among other factors.
The article, ‘Reckless Behaviour, Loss, and Trauma: The Destructive Impact of Alcoholism on Families’, shows that alcoholism is an addiction that has effects on the entire family, not just the afflicted, by creating family loss and trauma.
It also shows that adolescent drinking is another problem that plagues many teens for they are in various stages of development and often struggle with social and emotional distress.
“Alcohol’s ability to impact one’s brain and go directly into one’s bloodstream makes it a powerful, but destructive substance to overindulge. Individuals who drink are more likely to overspend as drinking can cost large sums of money.”
Dr Wilbur Bushara says that it is always important to understand addiction before addressing its effects.
He, hence, explains alcohol addiction as that where a person has a desire or physical need to take alcohol even when it has a negative impact on their lives, in short, the person feels they cannot do anything without drinking first.
This, he says, has different effects on any individual, effects which might be social, health-related, mental and psychological.
Alcoholism impairs the person’s ability to think, it affects their emotions and decision making.
Bushara notes that alcoholism predisposes the drinker to chronic illnesses like cancers, mostly liver cancer, diabetes mellitus (type 2 diabetes) and hypertension.
He also says that the addiction puts a person at high risk of organ damage and may in the long run cause organ failure; organs mostly affected include kidneys, liver, brain and lungs.
“It impairs the person’s ability to think, it affects their emotions and decision making. It also affects the person’s nervous system and can cause dementia, forgetfulness, and confusion,” he says.
The medic also points out that alcohol addiction can cause erectile dysfunction in men and alter menstrual cycle in females.
“It also causes suicidal thoughts to the drinker which in the long run causes depression. There are also increased chances of accidents from falls because of altered consciousness.”
Bushara notes that over drinking is one the leading causes of domestic violence in families, and apart from that, an alcoholic is prone to reduced productivity, for alcohol users tend to ignore their responsibilities which consequently affects their work ethic.
Alcoholism and recovery
Whereas some people may not find it hard to quit their drinking habits, some battle with the addiction, and in most cases the most viable option is to seek counselling services from rehabilitation centres.
Ngirababeyi explains that patients who seek these services usually receive an individual diagnosis which includes a thorough evaluation of blood, urine or other lab tests to assess drug use.
The results from the tests are the ones that determine the right treatment to be offered to the addict.
Bekunda says that majority of people do not understand the plight of an alcoholic, for many seem to think it’s a moral problem, which is not the case.
“When I was abusing alcohol, I wanted to stop, but I couldn’t, and nobody believed that I really did want to stop. You have to be there to understand,” he says.
The recovery coach says that people need to understand that alcoholism is a disease and people do recover.
He also points out that if the alcoholism related problems are not addressed, it could lead to permanent brain damage, fatal diseases, harming others through drunk driving, domestic and other forms of violence, and early and unwanted pregnancy.
“Alcohol, a psychoactive substance affects the reasoning and judgement; the main reason I got into sensitisation on alcohol-related-harm is because my research on the problem pointed me to underage drinking. 40 per cent of young people that start drinking in adolescence develop addictions; alcohol is also the most dangerous of all psychoactive substances.”
He says, for those seeking help for themselves or their loved ones, it is always advisable to get a professional opinion on how to handle their situation, through an assessment. The loved ones to a person suffering addiction have a lot to learn about how to handle an addict and influence their desire to get help. Sometimes what they call help, is actually enabling the addict to continue using.
“The key to success in recovery is a desire to change. For as long as someone doesn’t develop the desire to change, there is little hope. I always advise, seek help from an addiction professional. Get an assessment for the condition and follow the guidance. Recovery works and I live to testify that,” Bekunda says.
Society has a role to play
Patience Aimee Keza says that though society has been enforcing different measures, such as campaigns to fight against alcohol abuse and legalising alcohol for only people who are 18 and above, more needs to be done.
“Young people need to be constantly reminded of how dangerous drug abuse is, for example, how depending on alcohol can make them lose focus on their goals and that it can affect not only them but the country’s development.”
Albert Murinzi is of the view that attention should be mostly on the key population. He says society should take the lead in fighting drug abuse instead of waiting for their leaders to solve all issues.
“Much as society is intervening on this issue of alcoholism, I think we should know the people that are affected most (youth) and take measures concerning that because not all measures taken are effective for everyone,” he says.
Murinzi emphasises the need for the youth to support their local communities in different ways, something he says will keep them busy and at the same time help them contribute to the country’s development.
According to Vanessa Gakuba, society’s role is to help these addicts through counselling by talking to them and integrating them in society.
“Very many people call them sick or crazy but apart from criticism, there is a lot society can do in particular to help alcoholics other than segregating them, which I think would foster their progress in life.”
First of all, stigma should be done away with because it is what mainly prevents addicts from seeking help.
People should be in the position to understand victims instead of blaming them if we are to deal with this issue in society.
Sylvia Elizabeth, customer care agent
I say, more and more awareness should be put in place on the dangers of alcohol abuse.
The youth mostly should be given this sensitisation since they are the biggest victims.
Anna Mulekatete, student
What is important is to deal with the underlying causes of alcohol abuse.
Most people end up drinking a lot, not because it is their choice, but because they are faced with issues.
Cases of broken homes and depression should be dealt with; they are some of the major causes of alcoholism.
Mutabazi Gakuba, IT specialist
There should be measures put in place, especially on the community level, to monitor the young ones mostly.
Bars on the other hand should be keen enough not to allow underage people to consume alcohol.
Muhuma Kanizio, mechanic