Understanding alcohol addiction

Alcohol consumption can lead to various difficulties—health, social, and financial, among others.

Despite this, there is still a growing number of people abusing alcohol.

For instance, Icyizere Psychotherapeutic Centre Kicukiro, Kigali, receives 300 patients a month suffering from effects of various substance abuse, including drugs and alcohol. Roughly, 50 of them suffer alcohol addiction.

According to 2018 statistics compiled by Ndera Neuropsychiatric Hospital, a specialised facility for mental health, Huye Isange Rehabilitation Centre, and Icyizere Hospital, 1.6 per cent of the patients they received suffered alcohol addiction.

Yvonne Uwamahoro, the director at Icyizere Psychotherapeutic Centre, says that what is worrying is that most of these patients are young—aged between 18 and 30—and students at secondary and university level.

ALCOHOLISM

How do you know one is addicted to alcohol? Experts say; lack of control over drinking; doing whatever it takes to get alcohol; making alcohol a priority—taken before doing anything else. Also, experiencing withdrawal symptoms like shaking, loss of appetite, and headaches, among others, requires medical assistance as it shows one is hooked to the habit. 

Uwamahoro says alcohol taken in excessive amounts has the ability to change the metabolism or the physiology of the body.

She says it can speed up or slow down the normal function of the body. For instance, when it comes to brain function, alcohol has the ability to oppress the frontal lobe.

Alcohol addiction can lead to depression, experts say. / Net photo

The frontal lobe is the part of the brain that controls important cognitive skills in humans; like problem-solving, spontaneity, memory, language, initiation, judgment, impulse control, and social and sexual behaviour.

Uwamahoro says when one abuses alcohol, this part ceases to function, leading to improper behaviour.

She says if one continues abusing or drinking alcohol in excessive amounts and for a long period of time, they can develop dependency or addiction.

“Addiction is when one can no longer control the amount of alcohol they consume. At this point, the alcohol now controls or guides them; when it has reached this level, it’s a disease that needs to be treated,” she says.

Dynamo Ndacyayisenga, the in-charge of management of alcohol and drug use disorders at Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), says alcohol can lead to death.

He explains that this can happen if one is used to the habit of drinking, when they stop abruptly, it can lead to death because of the withdrawal symptoms that ensue.

ALCOHOL AND DEPRESSION

Ndacyayisenga says depression is a disease that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act. One of the major symptoms of depression is perpetual sadness.

Another sign of depression, he says, is loss of interest in everything, including socialising, eating and even taking care of oneself in general.

There are also indications like losing appetite or weight, poor sleeping habits, and aggressive behaviour.

One could develop chronic headache without any illness, and severe depression sometimes leads to suicidal thoughts.

There is a definite link between alcohol and depression, experts say; despair could stem from one’s drinking habit, or, depression caused by other issues could lead one to ‘find solace’ in alcohol.

“Challenges like conflict with loved ones, like family members who avoid the addict; and society that isolates addicts,” Ndacyayisenga says.

When this happens, it results in stigma. This will affect them, and in the end, they end up sad and humiliated, leading to depression.

Uwamahoro says there are many occasions in addicts’ lives that could cause depression.

She says these include, imprisonment, accidents, losing employment, among others, brought about because of one’s drinking.

She adds that many of the patients received at the centre suffer both alcohol addiction and depression.

HOW ARE ADDICTS HELPED?

Uwamahoro says that the duration of healing depends on the level of the problem.

She explains that time is required to work on each and every problem faced by the patient, in order to make the healing process effective.

At the centre, Uwamahoro says, they have a multidiscipline team, meaning that there are various workers with different roles, including psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and nurses, among others. Also, deep assessment is carried out to boost the process of treatment.

Alcohol affects the brain’s communication pathways. / Net photo

There are also some medications given, however, she says this is not always the case, and it happens mostly for those with heavy withdrawal symptoms caused by alcohol addiction.

A spiritual aspect is also considered as part of the healing process.

“We give value to this even though it’s not visible; we believe it plays a great role when it comes to the healing process of patients,” she says.

The patients are also allowed to engage in everything they feel they are interested in, like games and activities such as cooking, gardening, among others.

Uwamahoro says this helps them feel valued and it boosts their self-esteem—they view themselves as part of society and, it facilitates the process of reconciliation when they go back to their families.

The patients who stay at the centre, Uwamahoro says, participate in different activities, including reading or other educative programmes like debates since most of them are students.

Beatrice Mukayirabukwa, a social worker at the centre, says the first thing they do when a patient is brought in is to identify their social problems, including their relationship with family members.

The problems, she says, range from misunderstandings and conflicts, to the way they relate with others.

Thereafter, she says, they help them regulate their behaviour so that they can be part of their family and community again.

“The patient is allowed to open up about their problems and what may be bothering them; after, we help them slowly change their mindset and distance the idea of alcohol so that they can live well with others,” Mukayirabukwa says.

Helping them understand what caused the problem, Mukayirabukwa says, also makes healing more effective.

editorial@newtimesrwanda.com

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