Alcohol addiction: you can’t swim in a bottle, you drown

One of my close friends is a recovering alcoholic; he has been to a rehabilitation centre twice. He once checked himself out of rehab after deciding that the counselors there weren’t sure of what to do with him.
An occoasional drink up with friends is okay as long as it doesn’t become a habit. Net photo
An occoasional drink up with friends is okay as long as it doesn’t become a habit. Net photo

One of my close friends is a recovering alcoholic; he has been to a rehabilitation centre twice. He once checked himself out of rehab after deciding that the counselors there weren’t sure of what to do with him.

He started drinking not long ago but went down the drain fast. It started after he was deported. He was in school abroad and got deported for an offence he says he didn’t commit. He was at the wrong place, with the wrong people.

His path into alcoholism like many was more like a slow fade; he was never destined to be an alcoholic. He began with a few beers to pass time when he was bored and ease stress, sooner he began losing count of how many he had taken.

Then he moved on to the ‘hard stuff’ and eventually he was dependent on alcohol. He was and still is knowledgeable, the kind of guy who reads not because he has an exam coming, so it surprised most when he turned out an alcoholic. He says recovery from alcoholism is not as easy as they make it sound in self help books.

When he quit for the first time and went to rehab, he was diagnosed with Reactive Depression which had been a result of the sorrow he was dealing with. Soon after he went back to excessive drinking. Pauline Wanjiku, a counselor who has previously worked with an alcoholic’s anonymous group says that a good number of people who turn out to be alcoholics are mostly forced by circumstances. “Most of the cases I have come across are people who had been on the right path but got distracted by hard times. Most of them are not as experimental and rogue as you would expect them to be. They are tortured by circumstances and alcohol or drugs are a quick way to forget their circumstances.”

“Society mostly looks at people dependent on alcohol as misfits who chose their fate, but if you spent time with most of them, you would understand that most of them were previously innocent. It is easy to judge them as people who chose to have a good time and lost the path and that makes it hard for them to get help from their families or friends. Most times when one has an alcohol or drug problem, their closest friends and relatives tend to step back causing them to sink deeper into their only ‘solution’. If family and friends took more time to understand them, it would probably be easy to help them get through it,” Wanjiku says.

While dealing with an alcoholic colleague, Billy Kayihura, a 25-year-old web developer says that he learnt that not all alcoholics are so because they are rogue.

“A former classmate was discontinued from school and he probably saw it as a termination of his dreams. Normally teachers and parents tell you that nothing should stop you from pursuing your dreams but our inner strength differs and some of us can’t figure a way out. My classmate turned to drinking and smoking marijuana because he received a lot of backlash from his family. Former classmates were not very helpful either. Since he was no longer a student he received little or no pocket money and had to drink the cheapest liquor he could afford which did him a lot of harm. Thinking of it now, it is strange that none of his friends or classmates tried to intervene, we all probably saw him as a deviant and gave up on him.”

Kayihura says that though they will never know, things would probably have been different had they tried to intervene. “I cannot be sure that we are to blame for his problem but it is like most of us watched it happen.”

Betty Iribagiza, a cashier at a restaurant in Kigali believes that we are the masters of our destiny and it is weak to blame friends and family for not helping us out.

“If we all expected friends and family to help us avoid substance abuse, then the world would be full of alcoholics. Most of those who resort to these ways are just people afraid of facing reality; we all have problems or hard times and do not use drugs. Saying that their circumstances were hard and there was no one at reach is just an excuse and a way to seek sympathy,” Iribagiza says.

A common excuse amongst alcoholics is that they have been at it too long that they cannot walk away as they are fully dependent. They claim that if they ceased to use the substances, they would not be able to get on with their lives but Dr. Valentin Bulambo, a general doctor at Centre Medical Orkide in Remera, says that this is untrue. “Anyone can quit substance abuse if they resolve to but there are steps. It is advisable to consult a physician who will direct you and put you on a programme to get clean. Immediate withdrawal could lead to complications since one was previously dependent.”

Dr. Bulambo adds that those who quit on their own could easily stumble and get back to substance abuse. “At times when one quits without medical help it is not sustainable because it is easy to get back to abusing substances due to the strain they go through because of the withdrawal effects.”

It begins with a few sips of a drink or a drag of smoke and slowly they are enslaved and take on a new label; users. Who is to blame for them getting there may not be as important as who will help them get out of there.

Telltale signs of alcohol addiction

• People with addiction problems tend to increase the quantity and frequency of their substance of choice without showing signs of being out of control.

• Over time, addicts develop a network of hiding places.

• The need for money and the desperation of addiction make everything in your home susceptible. Items like cameras and jewellery begin are easy to sell at a throwaway price.

• Drinking alone before going out with friends is a big red flag.

• Teenagers and young adults who are starting to use drink hard may throw those around them off the track by admitting to drink a little and have it under control

• Becoming unreliable and secretive is a trademark of the alcoholic or addict. They start to forget appointments, miss important events, show up late to work or school, etc.

• As addiction takes hold, it tends to block out other interests and activities that used to be important sources of pleasure and fulfilment. Loss of interest in friends, sports, social activities and anything else that used to define someone can be a clue that something’s not right.

• Rapid weight loss. Weight loss is usually seen as positive in our society, so it’s often overlooked as a symptom of drug abuse.

Is alcohol abuse by choice or circumstance?

It’s not like people who take alcohol and drugs are the only people with problems. Everyone has problems. It then becomes a choice on how one will solve their problem and some choose drugs and alcohol.

Andrew Mujinya, Lawyer




A child grows up in a neighborhood where the majority of the teens take drugs and drink. How do you expect one not to drink or abuse drugs? Sometimes it’s not a choice but circumstance.

Aphrodice Kwizera, Businessman



Every wrong doing is by choice. Everyone has that instinct in them that separates right from wrong. In that case, whatever situation you are facing isn’t a reason to opt for drugs or alcohol.

Winnie Kabatesi,


Every child grows up with a role model. And most children look-up to their parents. You find a father comes home drunk almost every day. At the age of 15, when a child is faced with the temptation of drugs or alcohol, he can’t resist.

Joseph Ssewali, Web designer

Vox pop by Patrick Buchana

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