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."
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
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
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