Fight against the bottles, pills

When he was sworn into office in 2004, President Hifikepunye Pohamba denounced alcohol abuse and urged the Government and non-governmental organisations to take the lead in changing Namibia from a nation of drunkards to a nation of producers.

For some, the statement was received with a pinch of salt and it sparked debate in society but years down the line, Namibia is still being labelled as one of the countries with the highest number of alcoholics.

Drug and alcohol abuse have been widely reported on as contributing factors in the spread of HIV/Aids in Namibia by increasing risky sexual behaviour.

A recent study by World Health Organisation (WHO) on drinking patterns and problems in Namibia shows that 56% of all adults drink alcohol, of which 47% of those drink more than six units per occasion, while 40% are male drinkers.

It further notes, 37% of alcohol abusers in Namibia have gone beyond the red light and cannot disassociate themselves with the holy waters.

With such a gloomy background that has also seen under-aged Namibians indulging in binge drinking while some use intoxicating substances including marijuana, heroin and crack cocaine, the Ministry of Health and Social Services has heeded the President’s call by doubling its efforts in combating these drug abuse through supporting the Etegameno Rehabilitation Centre; a place of hope.

Established in 2004, the centre rehabilitates drug addicts and provides treatment and support for a reasonable fee while creating reliable support structures for its patients who are expected to recuperate and get back on their feet in five and half weeks.

Etegameno Rehabilitation and Resource Centre is the only Government rehabilitation centre in the country and has a daunting task of providing a normal life to every Namibian who has become a slave of either the bottle or dangerous substances.

While it is not easy for the institution to survive financially, it has gone out of its way to provide help to the unemployed addicts free of charge while those who earn an income have to pay for their rehabilitation.

The payment system is structured according to the patient’s earnings, with those being paid N$1000 paying N$350 for the services while those who earn in excess of N$5000 in salary pay a N$1000 for the treatment.

The rehab manager, Verona du Preez says alcohol abuse is a cancer that eats up individuals bit by bit as long as they are in denial.

“The person only realises they need help when they reach rock bottom. 80% of the patients at the centre are male while 20% are female. After realising they have a problem, they usually contact a social worker who will have two to three sessions with them before determining whether or not they need more help, after which they are referred to the centre,” she says.

According to her, the main causes of alcohol and drug abuse are depression, problems at home and unemployment, hence most of the drug users are mostly unemployed.

“At Etegameno, a patient goes through different phases of psychological analysis before being discharged, to give a bit of insight on their progress. The first phase called the Audit Screen determines how severe the addiction is and necessary steps are taken to rectify it,” she clarifies.

Admission at the centre is voluntary but before someone is committed, they have to sign a form of consent, showing that they were willing to be admitted.

Most of the patients who are at Etegameno are either single or divorced and their education level is from grades 10 to 12. Statistics show that those from ages 25 to 39 usually get admitted there mostly because of crack cocaine addiction.

While at the centre, patients engage in a lot of activities including arts and crafts where they are encouraged to use their hands and build artefacts.

The five and a half weeks at the centre do not necessarily mean that patients will stay clean the moment they leave rehab. The patient has to join a support group to help them remain focused and not relapse.

“It takes more than 10 years for a person to finally say they are clean, it’s a process that needs a lot of work and support.

During this time, the patient deals with anger issues and rediscovering their identity since they would have lost it. The employees at the centre are highly trained in guidance and counselling when signs of depression are obvious. They are taught how to handle patients before a social worker is involved,” she says.

The rehab facility offers everything including a psychologist who assesses the patients’ recovery progress every week to determine whether or not some might need extra help.

“We have had cases of clients who become psychotic because of the substance abuse, so the psychologist will then refer them to a psychiatrist,” said du Preez.

Support groups from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Blue Cross Namibia and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) speak to those admitted on real life situations, things that they also went through the patients from their own real life experiences. During weekends, they are visited by family members and they attend church services on Sundays.

During the last two weeks of the term, they focus on relapse prevention and aftercare where they look at the different triggers that may make them fall off the wagon.

The discharge program includes recommendations on the way forward. They are also educated on the effects of the drugs and how the drugs impact their bodies.

“Coming to the centre is easy but the difficult part is staying sober. Addiction has a past, present and future and staying clean is not as easy as people might think. They need to attend a year and half aftercare programmes with their respective support groups,” she continues.

The centre works with the Ministry of Labour to train the recovering addicts on how to apply for jobs and after every six months, the concerned social worker writes an assessment report on their progress.

At the end of every year, there is an aftercare workshop for support groups where they talk about new treatments or which new drugs are circulating at that particular time. PF