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IRAQ: Violence, poverty, unemployment fuel rising alcoholism

BAGHDAD, 5 September 2007 (IRIN) - As the violence continues in Iraq, many people have been turning to alcohol to relieve their stress, say observers.

“The consumption of alcohol in Iraq has surprisingly increased in the past few months,” said Kamel Ali, head of the Health Ministry’s drug and alcohol-prevention programme. “Every day more patients look for help as their addiction begins to seriously affect their personal lives.”

“Iraq has one of the worst treatment and follow-up regimes for alcohol abusers in the Middle-East,” he said. “Alcohol abusers are treated as drunks rather than as people suffering from psychological stress… They need the support of a psychologist or psychiatrist to help them stop drinking.”

Officials at Ibn Rushd Psychiatric Hospital in Baghdad - the only medical facility in the country that treats drug addicts and alcohol abusers - said alcoholism was increasing but lack of professional staff and investment had prevented success.

No specialist treatment for alcoholics

“Violence, unemployment and poverty are the main reasons for the increase in alcohol abuse,” said Younis Obeidi, a psychiatrist at Ibn Rushd Hospital. “In Iraq there are no specialised programmes for alcoholics. The two non-governmental organisations (NGOs) which were helping alcoholics closed down after receiving threats from militants.”

“In our hospital alcoholics are treated for intoxication for two days and then sent home,” he added.

According to Obeidi, few patients agree to see one of the three psychiatrists still working at the hospital and staff shortages are aggravating the problem. “Most of the doctors have fled the country and, without proper government support, those patients will leave the hospital and head straight for the nearest alcohol seller.”

The Iraqi Psychologists Association (IPA) said that according to a recent internal study by doctors associated with the IPA, in the past two months the number of alcoholics in care has increased by 34 percent compared to the figure for June 2006. The study interviewed 2,600 people from different suburbs of the capital as well as patients who received treatment last year. A lack of funds had prevented the study from being published and it remained with the IPA, which provides information through its press office.

Alcohol widely available

Alcoholic drinks can be found in many districts of the capital and are relatively inexpensive. A bottle of whisky costs less than US$3 and a can of beer goes for about $2. Arak (a traditional spirit) and tequila are also widely available.

“We no longer sell in shops but from our own houses,” said Abu Nur, an alcohol seller in the capital. “My shop was hit twice by insurgents and I was forced to close down but I’m selling from my home to people I trust and who have been buying from me since I had my shop.”

Abu Nur said alcoholic drinks came from Syria and Jordan, either by plane or car. Abu Nur said alcoholic drinks came from Syria and Jordan, either by plane or car. “The dangerous bit is when they reach Baghdad. We never know if we will be stopped by fanatical insurgents at a checkpoint. If it is Shia militia members the worst they normally do is take a few bottles.”

Poverty, unemployment, violence

Mahmoud Mustafa (not his real name), 36, is an example of how poverty, unemployment and violence have driven him to drink.

“I was unemployed and poverty entered our home for the first time,” Mustafa said. “I found in alcohol a way to escape the violence and reality of my country.”

“I became aggressive and my wife has taken my children and returned to her parents’ home. Now I’m homeless, trying to find help to make me the nice person I once was, but I get no help and without proper care I think I won’t be able to stop [drinking].”

as/ar/cb

Theme (s): Conflict, Economy, Health & Nutrition,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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