- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 January 9 , 2004 

No Place for Partying: Center for alcohol abuse has difficult job during holidays

There is little to cheer about during holidays at a rehabilitation center..

For two years Zakar Arshakyan has been working in the Yerevan Center of Narcology as overseer, keeping watch over patients whose overuse of alcohol has landed them in treatment during the holidays.

While throughout Armenia strong drink fuels the series of parties that begins in late December and lasts until January 13, Zakar spends his season of celebration with two dozen patients whose blood contains too much alcohol.

"This is the second New Year's Day I spent at work," says Zakar. "Days like this one are very strenuous as many patients realize that it is a holiday, everybody drinks and their desire to drink doubles. But here it is forbidden to drink even during holidays."

The New Year's table is set abundantly for patients of the Center, however, those who are treated there have a dark mood without alcohol.

According to doctors of the Center, holidays are the most dangerous period for chronic abusers as during that time people who have already undertaken treatments start drinking and find themselves in the hospital again.

"The number of our patients doubles during the days after holidays," says deputy director of the Center responsible for medical treatment in the hospital Mkrtich Khachatryan. "Those days we even receive patients with psychoses."

Khachatryan worries that younger patients are showing up for treatment...

According to Khachatryan, during Soviet times this problem was solved in a different way. In days before the holiday season began, alcoholics were taken to the Center and kept there until the holidays were over.

"So that they could not be dangerous for society and could not poison themselves with this 'garbage'," says the deputy director.

However, according to Khachatryan, alcoholism has never been a widespread disease among Armenians.

"Unlike some other nations, drug and alcohol addictions have never been a national problem for Armenians. For centuries Armenians have been using alcohol but they never overindulged in it."

These days, doctors say, the picture has changed. According to Khachatryan, alcoholism in Armenia has recently started to become noticeable especially among young people.

During Soviet times the average age of patients at the Center was 40-45. Now, most people in the Center aren't older than 35.

"The number of people who use alcohol increases and the painful part is that the majority of them are young people. And that is the flowering period when people must create families and administer the country," says Khachatryan.

According to specialists, the disease of alcoholism began spreading in Armenia as a result of dramatic changes taken place during the past 15 years. First the earthquake, then years of crisis, unemployment and mass emigration made many people color their grey and difficult lives with the help of liquor.

One Gyumri resident, who didn't want to tell his name, is being treated for alcoholism in the Center for the second time. The 50 year old man says he became addicted to alcohol after the earthquake when his two sons were killed.

The poorest Armenians satisfy their need by using Iranian alcohol. One liter of the spirit cost less than twice as much of the cheapest licensed vodka (which sells for about $1).

During the years of Communism Armenia was the only of the 15 Soviet republics that did not have a detoxification center and Armenians are still proud of that fact.

The only place where addicts were treated was the Center of Narcology, which then was called a dispensary. As a separate institution it was founded in 1976, when narcology services were separated from psychotherapy. Patients don't normally volunteer to the treatment, but are brought after being found intoxicated.

According to doctors, the Soviet regime used to do everything to keep the hospital overloaded. Without taking into account a patient's will, he was taken to the hospital either by policemen or by his relatives and in case an alcoholic resisted, he was given a compulsory treatment by the court.

These days mainly relatives bring sick people to the hospital.

"Before, treatment lasted about 60 days, besides, patients had opportunity to work in the workroom of the Center and return home with the salary earned for the work they did," says Khachatryan.

Today, patients don't stay in the Center for more than 24 days as being under the government's patronage they are financed only for that period of time. The center receives 120,000 drams (about $200) for each 24-day treatment.

In addition to treating and feeding patients the Center has to cover its communal expenses and pay salaries of its medical staff with the government money.

This Center was created for keeping 150 patients. These days the average number of patients being treated in the Center is 40.

But the number, specialists say, will grow in these next days following nearly a month of alcohol-inspired celebrations.

According to Agnes
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Amber Square?

All dressed up for the holidays, Republic Square has never looked so rosey (well not since it was "Lenin Square" anyway). In addition to its giant holiday tree, this year all government buildings were lit, casting a soft glow in the moist Yerevan nights.





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