Iran plans to set up treatment centres for alcoholics
Health ministry acknowledges ban is no solution for alcoholics
by: Monavar Khalaj in Tehran
August 9, 2015
Undeterred by the threat of lashes or even execution, Shayan, a 32-year-old real estate broker, and a Muslim, has been drinking alcohol most of his adult life.
The son of an opium addict, he turned to drink and drugs to ease his pain.
“I was unhappy and angry and had no power,” he says. Since the age of 16, he has drunk up to four litres of “aragh” – a home-made vodka that contains about 45 per cent pure alcohol – every week and injected 2 grams of heroin every day.
Now sober for about four months, Shayan, who does not want his full name published, kneels down to pray at least twice a day and goes to daily Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
The Islamic regime banned alcohol following the 1979 revolution, imposing strict rules on its sale and consumption. The health ministry now plans to set up 150 treatment centres for outpatient alcohol rehabilitation and six for in-patient treatment.
Saeed Sefatian, a senior substance prevention official of the State Expediency Council, welcomes the news, adding that “at least the officials in an Islamic country have admitted [they should] launch [alcohol] rehabilitation centres”.
There is a uniform ban on alcohol for Muslim Iranians, though many still drink at home, drinking smuggled vodka or whisky or home brew, often made by Iranian Armenians, many of whom are Christian.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that more Iranians are brewing their own alcohol, which often contains high levels of pure alcohol.
Alarm bells were raised last year when the World Health Organisation said Iranian drinkers consumed 24.8 litres of pure alcohol a year, far more than the average drinker in Russia, Germany or the UK. While there are fewer drinkers in Iran, the drinks consumed usually contain higher alcohol levels. A health ministry official said 420m litres of alcoholic beverages were consumed annually, although the figure was almost immediately denied.
“I have been going mountain climbing outside Tehran every week for the past eight years. These days the number of youngsters who smell of booze is increasing,” says Mohammad, a psychologist, who did not want his full name published. “It seems the mountain is a good place to drink, without the risk of being arrested by the police or being under pressure of families.”
While Iran has long had a problem with drug usage – in part because of the ready availability of opium thanks to a shared border with Afghanistan – awareness of the dangers of alcohol is limited.
Until recently Shayan did not know that alcohol was addictive. “When I was in a drug rehabilitation camp, they said alcohol leads to dependency and I said that was not true,” he says.
Shayan says he owes his newfound sobriety to a group of AA volunteers he met in a park, rather than any official intervention.
Luckily for Shayan and people like him, Iranian officialdom has woken to their plight. Once seen as a legal matter, clerics are increasingly realising the need for treatment. Mr Sefatian warns: “If alcohol is ignored, it can overtake drugs within the next few years.” It can, however, be kept under control if government plans go ahead, he said.
Shayan also welcomes news of more treatment centres. “Special medical teams must be trained to deal with alcoholics . They should not be sent to drug rehabs because they get familiar with drugs too,” he said.
“If alcohol rehabilitation centres are set up, I can take [my brother-in-law] Hamid, who drinks about half a bottle of whisky or cognac each night,” Shayan says and adds: “Lack of such centres deprives him of the chance to get back to a normal life.”