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Zambia battles with alcohol abuse

GOVERNMENT wants to come up with an alcohol policy to regulate alcohol consumption in Zambia.

MEMORY MANINGA, Lusaka
THOUGH regular but moderate consumption of alcohol is said to have health benefits, medical experts warn that excessive indulgence can cause health complications.

Alcoholism is also blamed for social vices such as child negligence, failure to provide for one’s family, gender- based violence and absenteeism from work. Alcohol is also said to be a driver of sexual immorality, giving rise to the spread of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV and AIDS.
Zambia has been cited by many studies as one country where alcohol is excessively consumed by both men and women.
Beer drinking places such as nightclubs and bars have been increasing in numbers in townships, making it easier for children under the age of 18 to have access to alcohol.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 76 percent of men and 23 percent of women in Zambia consume alcohol.
A Zambia Global School Health survey (2004) conducted by WHO on 2,257 pupils between grades one and seven revealed that 43 percent of school- going children in Zambia consume alcohol.
Alcohol consumption is slowly becoming a norm among the youth, who tend to indulge in alcohol at parties and musical festivals. However, alcoholism is said to be a major cause of mental disorders in the country.
About 80 percent of people admitted at Chainama Hills Hospital [CHH] in Lusaka suffer from mental disorder caused by alcohol misuse and drug abuse.
This is according to a UTH psychiatric consultant who attributes several mental cases in the country to the misuse of alcohol.
To reverse this negative trend, the Ministry of Health is working with some ministries such as Local Government and National Guidance and Religious Affairs to formulate an alcohol policy that will regulate alcohol consumption in Zambia.
“Reports have indicated that most mental illnesses recorded at Chainama Hills Hospital are as a result of alcohol abuse and in this regard, my ministry together with other ministries of Local Government and National Guidance and Religious Affairs will now be working on a policy to regulate alcohol consumption in Zambia,” Minister of Health Chitalu Chilufya said.
Abuse of alcohol is caused by many factors, and these arise from genetic, bi-polar and anxiety disorders.
Bi-polar disorder is a mental illness that causes dramatic shifts in a person’s mood swings. Anxiety disorder, on the other hand, is a mental illness that causes uneasiness, worry and fear.
Other psychiatry conditions such as anti-social personality, schizophrenia and failure to cope with life’s frustrations can also cause mental disorder.
Failure to cope with these conditions can prompt people to resort to excessive alcohol consumption as a way of dealing with the pressure surrounding them.
Chioni Siwo, a University Teaching Hospital (UTH) psychiatrist consultant, says some people inherit the problem of alcohol abuse from their blood line.
Dr Siwo says such people develop a natural craving for alcohol and once they start taking the substance, they fail to control their drinking at a later stage in life.
“Sometimes, excessive alcohol consumption comes as a result of genetic factors in the family line. At a later stage in life, you find that people born from such families develop a natural craving for alcohol and once they start drinking, it is not easy for them to stop,” Dr Siwo explained.
CHH has in the past been conducting simple procedures on people suffering from alcohol addiction as a way of reducing dependency on the substance.
However, the facility has not been able to offer intensive rehabilitation for patients of this nature.
Dr Siwo says people suffering from alcohol addiction need intensive rehabilitation to recover.
“Chainama has been a detoxing centre for years now but if we are to curb alcohol addiction in the country, we need an in-patient facility that can keep these people so that they undergo intensive therapy and rehab.
“This is important because even as they are cleansed, they will be able to use the therapy they have undergone to start a new life when they recover,” she added.
In the meantime, Teen Challenge Zambia Residential Rehabilitation Centre (TCZRRC), a Christian institution located in Kafue has been offering rehab to people suffering from alcohol addiction and other forms of drug addiction.
In an interview, TCZRRC student supervisor Elijah Kabungo said the youth are the most vulnerable to such addictions due to peer pressure.
“We have been running the rehab programme for six years now and we are mostly focusing on teenagers, but we also have people above 18 that we assist.
“Our programme runs for a year and we have 14 subjects and group studies we offer to our students. These subjects are mainly focused on developing one’s character and personality. While they are in our care, we teach our students how to manage and control their anger as well as how to behave with people so that they can easily fit in society,” Mr Kabungo explained.
However, most people that enrol for this programme often quit along the way.
Mr Kabungo says for any rehabilitation to work, an addict needs to be willing to end the addiction.
“We have a challenge, mostly people who are brought here are not willing to change and so when they start, they end up stopping along the way because they are not ready to change,” he noted.
He said Zambia needs more of such rehabilitation programmes to curb alcoholism and other forms of drug abuse.
This month, CHH has started admitting people suffering from alcohol addiction to help them through intensive rehabilitation programmes.
Ministry of Health permanent secretary for administration Kennedy Malama said the rate at which people are consuming alcohol in Zambia is alarming and the trend needs to be reversed.
Dr Malama said admitting alcohol addicts at the Chainama Hills Hospital will enable the facility to offer intensive rehabilitation that can help patients with this problem to recover.
“Beginning this month, we will be admitting people addicted to alcohol as a way of helping them recover from the addiction.
“While at the facility, they will be undergoing intensive rehabilitation under the care of psychiatrists. We hope that in this way, the rate at which people take alcohol in the country will reduce,” Dr Malama said.

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