Alcoholism – A Disease With No Cure

25 Jun 2015 14:30pm
By Anna Tervahartiala

WINDHOEK, 25 JUN (NAMPA) – “I was born in a small town as the youngest of five,” Thomas Jacobs (name changed) begins.
“We never lacked anything. We always had enough to eat, warm clothes and safety at home. One could even say I was a spoiled child,” he says.
Jacobs was a normal child in a normal family. No traumas to mention, no stories of tragedy, abuse and abandonment. If something, perhaps there could have been more time for the family.
It was at the age of 12 that Jacobs had his first taste of alcohol. The experience was meant to be something fun, something a bit rebellious. The intention was not to start a trend, but years passed and the drinking continued. Jacobs enrolled in university but his academic career was short. The young man moved back home and started working.
On the contrary, regularity and responsibility did not bring structure to Jacobs’ life. For 18 years he would leave work on Friday, start drinking, stop on Sunday, be hung over on Monday and wait for the weekend so the cycle can start all over again. There were times, even years, of soberness, but these periods would be quickly forgotten by the next relapse.
Sometime in February 2002, Jacobs lay in bed contemplating how to kill himself. He was 30 years old and had just returned from his second stint in rehab in South Africa. By now, alcohol had been accompanied by drugs.
Statistics provided by the World Health Organisation (WHO) from 2014 state that alcohol consumption in Namibia has been on the rise since the beginning of the millennium.
In the years 2003 to 2005 the total consumption of pure alcohol per person above 15 years was 8.8 litres, while between 2008 and 2010 the level of consumption stood at 10.8 litres.
Statistics also show that Namibia is ranked sixth in Africa in terms of alcohol consumption.
The average amount of consumption in the region was six litres.
According to a report published by the WHO in 2011, statistics from the year 2004 showed that 3.8 per cent of all global deaths were attributable to alcohol; 6.2 per cent for the deaths of men and 1.1 per cent for the deaths of women.
Jacobs’ story is nothing unheard of. What makes his story different however is that he survived.
“Alcoholism, it is a disease,” Jacobs says. “But here there is no cure, there are only ways to learn how to live with it.”
Jacobs did not take his life. Instead he searched for help. For more than 10 years now, he has been sober. He regards himself as very lucky since finding a way out of addiction is not a given. Some of the friends he met in rehab he has not heard from since.
Even though Jacobs made it, according to statistics from the year 2000 provided by the United Stated National Institute of Drug Abuse, drug relapse rates are around 60 per cent. Jacobs himself says that the percentage of people who stay sober after rehab is even smaller.
In his words, one cannot choose a sober life in order to please someone. The desire for change must come from within, but no one can make it out alone.
“We do not have alcoholism in Namibia. It is not that there is none, it is just that we do not see it,” Jacobs describes the atmosphere he faced when coming to terms with his addiction.
According to the Meriam Webster dictionary, alcoholism is defined as the medical condition in which someone frequently and compulsively drinks too much alcohol and due to this condition, becomes unable to live a normal and healthy life.
“Here alcoholism is seen as the fault of the individual. People do not understand that I cannot drink,” Jacobs continues.
Searching for professional help, he began by participating in Christian support groups. Even though a Christian, Jacobs felt that the emphasis on religion was too overwhelming.
He came across Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), a support group of former drinkers working together to live a life without alcohol.
Currently there are three AA groups in Namibia - one in Windhoek, one in Swakopmund and a small group in the //Karas Region. The AA in Windhoek has meetings three days a week and everyone is welcome. All that is required is the desire to stop drinking.
The tools the AA works with are simple: go to meetings, stay away from places and people associated with alcohol, look for people who are positive, and find a hobby. There is no medicine, no special treatments, just the desire to bring back a life which one has control of.
Looking back into the past Jacobs sighs. He is not proud of the things he had done. At times it is difficult for him to recognise his past.
“These are things you cannot put on your CV,” he states and emphasises that alcoholism is not only a tragedy affecting the individual, but society as a whole.
“Alcoholism is a family disease,” he elaborates.
When looking at attempts to regulate alcohol abuse by setting schedules for the purchase of alcohol in markets and shutting down shebeens, Jacobs says these measures do not address the issue, and in fact deny the core reasons of the problem. In order to change the culture of alcohol use and abuse, one needs to discuss the issue openly, without stigmatising people who are in need of help.
“The only solution is to tell the stories of alcoholism and listen to the people,” Jacobs explains.
“I am not ashamed.”