Battling addiction

Conquering alcohol addiction is an almost impossible task, so the state has committed to expanding its network of rehabilitation centres, launching them at regional medical institutions countrywide
Conquering alcohol addiction is an almost impossible task, so the state has committed to expanding its network of rehabilitation centres, launching them at regional medical institutions countrywide. How much does such treatment cost, what does the rehabilitation process involve, and do these institutions produce results?


During the lesson with the participants of the I Want to be Sober programme

Opening the door of Raduga Rehabilitation Centre, located at Minsk’s city clinical drug abuse dispensary, it’s like entering a different world. A tree is painted on the wall in front of me, with a thousand palm prints instead of leaves. This is the number of alcohol, drug and gambling addicts who have been treated here. Ivan stretches out his hand and touches one of the prints, saying, “Each of the centre’s patients should leave his or her trace. My palm will appear soon, too.” Ivan has been here for just seven days out of a 28-day rehabilitation period. You can extend to three months if you wish to do so. Those addicted to drugs face the greatest difficulties, while heavy drinkers tend to only need 28 days.

Ivan is just starting to put his life back together. His former routine was simple, revolving around the need to find money to buy alcohol. Now, his goals are more lofty: making peace with his wife, and hugging his three-year-old daughter. His addiction began under ‘ordinary’ circumstances. His job was stressful and he realised, on drinking heavily at a party, that alcohol made him feel relaxed. After doing so several times, an addiction developed. He ran into debt, lost his job and his wife left him. His mother stepped in to rescue him. “She deceived me into coming here,” he confesses.

As we stroll along the corridor, three people approach the psychologist’s room: a middle-aged woman and man and a young man. Ivan whispers quietly, “You see, he’s also been brought here by his parents.” The mother is crumpling her handkerchief, while the father looks into the distance without expression. All are nervous.

“The first consultation at our centre is free of charge,” says the Head of the Medical and Psychological Rehabilitation Department, project manager Yulia Gromykhova. “Often, mothers and wives attend the first consultation alone, as addicts can be reluctant to show up, denying that they have a problem.”

How can they be persuaded into treatment? Yulia Gromykhova explains that it’s important not to try and solve an addict’s problems or pay his debts. She advises keeping them out of the house while they’re drunk, even though it’s difficult. She doesn’t think it cruel though. Rather, she thinks that an addict often needs to reach their lowest ebb before they’ll be ready to change. She does believe that they need to be offered an alternative though, being given the chance of treatment.

Usually, the first stage of treatment involves detoxing. Ceasing drinking is just the beginning of a path towards stable soberness, experts believe. The next stage, rehabilitation, is important, inspiring the launch of rehabilitation centres countrywide (both paid and state funded). Those which do not charge fees oblige an addict to register with a local drug therapist, which may entail future difficulties with employment and obtaining certification to drive. Anonymous therapy is a paid service, without such consequences. Private centres are being set up, one run by a former drug addict. Some are religiously linked. In fact, the cost of attending a private centre can reach $1,000.

At Raduga, treatment costs just over 600 Roubles. The centre accepts about 100 people a year, into groups of 8-10 patients, although everyone’s plan is individualised. Those undergoing treatment can be signed off from work on ‘sick leave’.


Head of Medical and Psychological Rehabilitation Department, Yulia Gromykhova

Yulia Gromykhova walks me around the room, “We practice the most efficient methods used internationally: gestalt therapy, psychoanalytic therapy, art therapy, and the 12 step principles. Also, we offer Kundalini Yoga and mixed martial arts classes, aimed at improving physical and spiritual health. Psychologists are deeply involved in working with addicts. Two of our advisors were alcohol addicts themselves: one has been sober for four years, and the other fourteen. Those who have spent time with us often attend rehabilitation events, to share their experience.”

It’s 9 am and Ivan is going to have an individual consultation with a psychologist. He notes, “When I first read the centre’s rules, I was shocked: no mobile phones, no social networking and no walking around the city. How can a modern person live in that way? Then I got used to it. The schedule is so busy here that I hardly have a minute for a cup of tea.”

“Indeed, patients have a full programme,” comments psychologist Alexander Fedorov. “Interviews with a personal psychologist, body-oriented therapy, attendance of a psychotherapeutic group, group structured therapy and lectures…”

Yelena Gurina, who works with addicts, says that everything is explained in a comprehensive manner. For instance, alcohol addicts often find that their emotions are ‘frozen’. A simple yet effective exercise can help them: imagining that an elevator is moving along their body and that it can stop at the eyes, arms or legs. People learn to concentrate on themselves and their feelings.

Some rules cannot be violated, on pain of dismissal, being part of the mechanism of rehabilitation, and marking boundaries of what is allowed. If you drink alcohol, hit up or have sexual intercourse with another patient, you are removed from the centre, without having your money returned. Yulia Gromykhova adds, “The financial issue is a motivating factor. A person understands that following the rules is important. Moreover, our patients don’t take medicines on their own. Why is this important? We want people to rely on themselves, rather than on alcohol or pills.”

Yulia approaches a ‘wish board’ with a lot of bright stickers. “Anyone can leave a request to the Universe,” she tells me. Together, we read the wishes of former patients: ‘I’d like a loving husband, a child and to become an actress’; ‘May God give me a brain’; ‘I want a cool car and money’; and ‘I want to live in harmony with myself’. Wishes differ, but the obstacle to achieving them is the same: addiction.

According to statistics, 40 to 50 percent of the centre’s patients lead a sober life for a year and more. There are many success stories: of a heavy drinker who was thought hopeless by relatives and friends but who recovered and became a gestalt therapist; and of a spouse addicted to drinking and dreaming of becoming a parent, who returned to the centre with their young daughter.

I ask Ivan to write his wish and he scribbles ‘I want to hug my daughter and make peace with my wife.’

By Taisia Azanovich

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