You can recover from alcohol addiction

by David Ogot snr.

EAST AFRICAN STANDARD PROFILE MAGAZINE Saturday November 17 - 23, 2001

Once an alcoholic or drug addict always an alcoholic or drug addict. The fact is that it is a disease for life! There is no cure, but one can manage it and live a successful, happy, fulfilling and productive life.

There are several avenues that people have used to overcome their addiction. These range from enrolling with the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) groups to seeking spiritual guidance.

In Kenya, the vast majority of addicts have at one time or another passed through a rehabilitation center, from established ones like Asumbi in Nyanza District to the new one at Redhill, supported by the Wilson Foundation. In Nairobi, newcomers are supplementing established institutions like the Chiromo Lane Medical Center (CLMC).

The Karen Treatment Center was founded and is managed by Dennis Heinemann, himself a recovering drug addicts who passed through rehabilitation to manage his addiction. All this goes to show that however bad you think your alcoholism or addiction is, there is always hope.

But despite their growth in numbers, rehabilitation centers remain couched in mystery and many people wonder what "magic" they contain that makes them capable of transforming hopeless addicts into responsible and productive citizens.

The truth is that rehabilitation centers do not perform magic nor do they transform people. They simply teach addicts how to cope with life without depending on alcohol or drugs. They explain why the victims are addicts and why they must quit or ultimately face jail, institutionalization or even death if they cannot quit.

For a person to succeed in managing his addiction, they need a desire to recover. That is all. That is the "magic". From there, a good rehabilitation center will guide you on the road to recovery.

But what is recovery? Simply put, it is change. It means things have to be different from the way they have been in order to achieve change from alcoholism, total abstinence is unavoidable.

Because recovery requires self-management, it is essential for alcoholics to learn as much as possible about their affliction and how to manage it. This is where a good rehab comes in. It also equips one with coping skills.

A good rehab will teach the addict that sobriety is a process; that alcohol; that alcohol drinking develops through a process of learned habits. Therefore, sobriety, too, must be a learned habit developed through life process of thorough reconditioning and maintained only by stopping to drink. For an alcoholic, there can be no more attempts at "normal" or "social" drinking because an alcoholic cannot drink safely. Put another way, alcoholics do not have a drinking but a stopping problem. Once they start, they cannot stop.

Because alcoholics exhibit a marked lack of responsibility and have no long-term goals, the alcoholic who wants to get well must accept responsibility by setting gals and plans for sobriety.

Many parents, spouses and relatives "dump" their alcoholics in a rehab seeking to shift responsibility from themselves to those who run those institutions. Many do not even bother to find out what addiction is all about They assume that all they have to do is pay the requisite fees and wait for the rehab to do the rest.

Yet, when the alcoholic relapses and starts drinking again, the relatives feel cheated, angry and helpless. But instead of finding out why there was a relapse, they rush the alcoholic to yet another rehab center. The family of a recovering alcoholic need to understand that conflict, resentment and other negative feelings towards the alcoholic will often trigger a relapse.

It is important, therefore, that they play an active role in the alcoholic's recovery. A family is a living unit and as one part of that unit changes, so must all parts in their own way. There should be no room for taking moral positions on who is right or wrong. The whole family must work together as one for the success of the recovery process.

On their part, alcoholics should realise that prior to their entering rehab, they had earned nothing but distrust from their families. As they leave 'rehab', they should be prepared for resentment, but they should take this in their stride.

Recovering alcoholics should try to be as self-reliant as possible. However, when they have a legitimate problem, they should not be too proud to ask for assistance.

They should also be open when meeting their families again because they probably be seeing them in a new light. They are more likely to notice strengths and weaknesses that they never noticed before.

Thus, as much as a rehab center can help alcoholics (or drug addicts) the key remains in their own hands. Oneís recovery on what one's family does or fails to do is like putting oneís recovery in another personís hands. It can never work.

When all is said and done, one should remember that rehab is only the beginning of a long journey. It is not a cure or the end of the problem after which all live happily ever after. The secret is to take each day as it come.

David Ogot is a freelance journalist/producer who has personal experience with alcoholism. He can be reached at goinghomedotcom@yahoo.com

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