KELVIN MBEWE, Lusaka
ALCOHOLISM has once again become an issue of hot debate in our country.
This is because the levels of consumption are showing an upward trend.
The World Health Organisation (WHO), says 76 percent of men and 23 percent of women in Zambia consume alcohol.
Ronald Phiri (not real name) was part of these statistics for over 18 years until he finally quit the habit.
Mr Phiri says initially, alcohol was not a problem until he lost his job as a clerk.
He sought solace in imbibing kachasu but with time, he lost the confidence of his family.
With the kachasu drinking having taken a larger part of him, his family treated him as an outcast and he was brushed aside when it came to family gatherings.
Apart from the solace he sought, kachasu was affordable and with it, he drunk his head off.
In his drunken state, he would not remember how to get home and would lay on the street if there was no well-wisher to convey him home on a wheelbarrow.
That was part of his lifestyle from 1988 to 2006.
Even when his health was giving way, the kachasu was still a prominent attraction for him.
But a day came when he took a serious thought about his love for kachasu.
“One day, I drunk my head off and all of the sudden, I picked a quarrel with one of my friends. When I went back home. I started thinking about why I picked a quarrel with a friend and I thought to myself that I should come out of the drinking habit,” he said.
That night, he was sleepless and first thing in the morning, he approached a man of God for guidance on how to quit his drinking habit.
At first, he made several attempts to stop and he would often go back but finally, he managed to kick the habit forever.
According to Mr Phiri, the road to recovery was not easy as he faced a lot of relapses due to depression caused by loss of employment and the company he used to keep.
Mr Phiri, did not have to undergo professional treatment to get out of alcoholism.
In Zambia, Chainama Hills Hospital offers treatment for people with like Mr Phiri.
Countrywide, Zambia has branches of wards that help people fighting alcohol-related programmes.
Other organisations such as Alcohol Anounymous (AA) also embraces victims of alcoholism.
According to their website the fellowship brings together men and women who gather and share their experience, strength and hope with each other in order to solve their common problems and recover from alcoholism.
The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. The primary purpose for Alcoholics Anonymous is to stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety.
Meanwhile Dr Tony Tsarkov is the head of clinical care and psychiatrist at Chainama hospital and he says recovering from alcoholism is a process that requires willingness to change from the alcoholic among others.
Dr Tsarkov states that medical personnel cannot change a person’s mindset to stop alcohol abuse but it’s up his own willingness.
Getting out of alcoholism is a long process and medical personnel cannot work magic and the client is healed, that is not how it works, says Dr Tsarkov.
Dr Tsarkov says if the person is motivated and willing to stop, the hospital can come in.
While alcoholism is a general term, Dr Tsarkov classifies the problem into alcohol abuse and the other being alcohol dependency.
The difference is that abuse is when one has a frequent use of alcohol but it has limits to social life.
This person can only drink alcohol when it is appropriate while dependency is one whose alcohol use is socially inappropriate. People that are dependent are those that cannot do without alcohol.
He says the abuse stage of alcoholism is easier to quit while dependency is a bit challenging to get out of.
Dr Tsarkov says alcohol intake has a lot of disadvantages.
Medically, it affects all organs and systems of the body, it affects one’s sight, ability to hear, ability to touch, sexual functions.
Socially, it affects one’s social life, they are discrimination against, affecting their social life.
Physiologically, people’s personalities change, they become aggressive, and they want to be found alone or with the bottle.
In trying to help one stop drinking, Dr Tsarkov says the process is long but worthwhile.
“The first step is assessment, we evaluate our clients to determine whether someone is addicted or not.
“We conduct a physiological test where we ask our clients to answer a few questions and the answers will lead us to understanding something about a particular client,” he said.
He said the second step requires medical assessment which includes laboratory testing, X ray and a CT scan.
The third step is providing treatment to patients that want to get rid of abuse or addiction.
The hospital applies multi-disciplinary approach where a patient has to go through different psychiatrists, laboratory technician that check the liver function, blood, different phycologists and individual counsellors, educational therapists such as arts therapists, painting and drawing.
According to Dr Tsarkov, there are hundreds of cases that the hospital deals with and most of them are successful while others are unsuccessful depending on the particulars of the case and the client’s willingness to transform.