Monday, March 15, 2010

The fight for sobriety

The Rhima Deaddiction Centre tries hard to wean people away from alcohol. But it is an uphill struggle

By Shevlin Sebastian

Photo: Dr. Sushil Daniel and P.R. Mohandas

In the backyard of the Rhima De-addiction and Rehabilitation Society at Kaithavalli, near Thoppumpady, there are several hens and chicks running around. On another side, there is a group of ducks waddling down the slope of a small pond into the water. Sitting on plastic chairs and staring at this tranquil setting are Paul Thomas, 50, and A. Rajesh, 34. Both have reddish eyes and stiff bodies.

Rajesh, a tax consultant, has been at Rhima for the past several days. “I had a relapse,” he says. An alcoholic for the past six years, Rajesh had checked into Rhima earlier, got clean, and stayed sober for three months, before he slipped again.

Since almost all his earnings were spent on alcohol, he could not look after his family, which included his wife, mother, and three-year-old daughter. So he was desperate to break his addiction.

Paul, on the other hand, has been an alcoholic for the past fifteen years. A Government employee, he has a monthly salary of Rs. 17,000, but takes home only Rs. 1000. The rest of the money is used to pay installments of various loans.

“All the loans were taken so that I could get money for drinking,” says Paul. “I have spent lakhs of rupees on my addiction.” As a result, the family is destitute. “But this time when I go out I plan to remain sober,” says Paul, although he does not sound confident at all.

Both stay at the 17-bed facility, which is run by the Rotary Club of Cochin Harbour (Rh) and Indian Medical Association (IMA) of Cochin West. Rhima’s resident counsellor P.R. Mohandas says that only 40 per cent of the patients come on their own will.

“The rest are brought by desperate friends, relatives or family members,” he says. “When they arrive more than 50 per cent are drunk.”

A doctor administers a sedative and the patient spends the first day in a deep sleep. When he awakens, he usually experiences withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, irritability, nausea, vomiting, headache or tremors.

Immediately, tranquilisers and multivitamin tablets are given. The patient is kept in a moderately sedated state for a week until the need for alcohol is eliminated.

Thereafter, Mohandas holds classes. “Initially, the men will deny that they are alcoholics,” he says. “But through logic and reasoning, I convince them that they have a problem. Once this happens, the recovery is quick.”

However, the permanent recovery rate is only 25 per cent. “The problem is that they go back to the same friends and environment which had caused the addiction,” says Rhima Director Dr. Sushil Daniel.

But he is happy that Rhima has been able to make a difference. Set up on June 26, 2004, more than 1200 people have used the facilities. But the outfit is hard-pressed for funds. The monthly expenses come to Rs. 80,000 and the facility runs solely on the donations of people.

“Surprisingly, it is the people of the lower and middle classes who give more,” says Daniel. “The higher you go, the less generous people become.”

And the patients don’t help much. They are supposed to pay Rs 100 per day for food. But many of them will give Rs. 500 after staying for 30 days. “So we have to subsidise the food, apart from the medicines, which are extremely costly,” says Daniel.

To mitigate the pressure, Daniel tried hard for Central funds. “But without giving bribes, it is difficult to get a sanction,” he says, with a rueful smile.

These are tough times, indeed, but Daniel feels gratified when there are positive results. Recently, at a meeting at the centre, a middle-aged woman spoke of how things had changed when her husband stopped drinking.

“Now we have more resources, we were able to buy a house, and provide an education for the children,” she said. “My husband shares his problems with me, which he never did before. He has become kind and caring.”

A caring Rhima is also acting as a bulwark, although a frail one, against the wave of alcoholism that has engulfed Kerala in recent times. Incidentally, it is the state with the highest per capita consumption of liquor in India.

(Some names have been changed)

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