Being addicted to drugs is one of the worst ways of wasting the most amazing and joyful moments of a person’s life. Cuba has implemented a series of actions to combat this terrible scourge, which affects people worldwide. Juventud Rebelde paid a visit to the Havana Psychiatric Hospital to learn about the work being carried out to try to win people’s lives back
International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. Photo: Roberto RuizZoom
Being addicted to drugs is one of the worst ways of wasting the most amazing and joyful moments of a person’s life. Cuba has implemented a series of actions to combat this terrible scourge, which affects people worldwide. Juventud Rebelde paid a visit to the Havana Psychiatric Hospital to learn about the work being carried out to try to win people’s lives back.
It is Tuesday morning. A group of people are gathered at the Rogelio Paredes department at the Havana Psychiatric Hospital. The doctor invites the group to close their eyes, relax and imagine that they are already rehabilitated, and that all those people who once accused them for doing wrong, now congratulate and admire them for their efforts and triumph over drugs.
The group is composed of people of diverse ages and social backgrounds who came to the realization of how much they were hurting themselves and their beloved ones. The activity is being led by Doctor Ricardo Gonzalez Menendez, a specialist in psychiatry and head of the Addictions Services department of the hospital.
To begin the session, Doctor Gonzalez asks them to repeat: “For the sake of my loved ones, and myself, I must, rehabilitate.” Afterwards, the group unites, hand in hand, in a solidarity chain. This is a moment where the patients not only self relax —following self relaxation techniques by Schultz—, but also portrayed the results of a treatment devoted to show them that recovering from the drugs and alcohol addiction is very achievable when aided by specialists.
According to international statistics on tragedies related to drug abuse —especially those that modify people’s behaviour— some 600 million people will become addicts, some other 600 million will suffer the consequences of the terrible behaviour caused by the use of drugs, although they will not be addicted to them. Additionally, some 1.2 million will suffer in the role of the patient’s relatives, which demonstrates the urgency of this problem.
The number of people, who, in their lifetimes, will suffer the terrible consequences of drug addiction, exceeds a third of the world’s population, so actions to prevent and eradicate this affliction must extend much beyond June 26, the date established by the UN National Assembly since 1987 as International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. These actions must be undertaken everyday.
Marihuana, Cocaine, psycho-pharmaceuticals and alcohol are some of the substances that have caused these people to come to seek treatment and rehab. Drug abuse does not only affect vital organs like the liver, but also the mental state of conscience.
Doctor Gonzalez’ decided to dedicate himself to this specialty after seeing the increasing number of mothers, sons and spouses of drug or alcohol addicts, who showed evident mental disorders and behaviour effects.
“Some 20 years ago, when the word drug was mentioned, we always thought of the fact that that it was illegal and that people became slaves to their effects. Now, when its consumption is legal in some countries, and specialists analyze the possible occurrence of great tragedies to the individual and family, we can also talk of co-dependents or passive drug addicts,” he said.
“This term is similar to the one used for passive smokers, in this case not referring to the indirect smoke received, but to their constant anguish, their suffering. The prolonged state of stress and the frequent traumatic events cause these people to suffer from anxiety, depression and exhaustion, among other psychic disorders.”
“It means that, while treating these people, who one day realize that they had to stop consuming drugs, we are also providing hope to the people who love them and live with them,” he added.
Doctor Gonzalez said that this is one of main objectives of this treatment, which is underway in four phases and is similar to the 12 steps developed by Alcoholics Anonymous.
IT is similar to a combination safe. “Two turns to the right mean the complete separation from the substance; a turn to the left means the radical change of the consumers’ life style. The modification of the abnormal traits of their character is achieved with another turn to the right, and finally, with two more turns, the patient must repay all the damage caused to other people and himself.”
“It is a symbolic way of developing the treatment, which is aimed at letting the patients know that they must thank those people who also suffered due to their illness and want to trust them again. These patients are also granted a continued treatment via weekly contacts with the Mutual Support Groups that exist across the nation and that help reinforce their condition of rehab patient.”
The main objective is to make the patient strongly believe that they must achieve total abstinence regarding drugs, which can cause transformations in people´s personality, conscience, and behaviour as in the case of pharmaceuticals, illegal substances and alcohol. In the case of alcohol, the Cuban population still does not associate it with being a drug, despite it being a known gateway to other drugs and an inducer of dangerous behaviour even in those who not alcoholics.
—What are the causes that can lead to addiction?
—In a society like this one, where there is an unconditional tolerance towards alcohol, becoming dependent on drugs is very common. It can be caused by the social environment, the search for pleasure, or the need of reaffirmation or security. If we analyze the fact that, some time ago, young people only needed music and lemonade to have fun at a party, but now they need alcohol as an indispensable element. Another cause can be the need to evade problems at home or at work.
“Any of those possibilities open doors to other substances like cocaine or marihuana —the latter is likely to cause schizophrenia— which are deeply rejected by society, that´s why the results of the prevention and social assistance programs in that respect have been good, contrary to those related to alcoholism, which is considered a gateway drug as well as tobacco.“
“The family is one of the fundamental factors that causes dependence on all sorts of drugs; especially if we take into account that 60 percent of the cases of people who ask for assistance live in dysfunctional families. The sociocultural environment can be an influence, but the family is the key element in the construction of a person´s identity and personality, as well as their best support,” noted Dr. Gonzalez.
Additionally, there are different ways to take care of addicted people. Family doctors are the fist level, who can provide treatment if the case is not critical. The next level is community mental health care centers or to the clinic DTE (Department of Specialized Treatment), where patients receive outpatient treatment. In case they needed to be admitted to the hospital, they will receive specialized care and treatment.
“The most important factor is that the patient be totally convinced of their illness and the need of rehab, as well as their relatives, who must try to avoid excuses for the events resulting from the abuse of alcohol and drugs.”
“It is evident that illegal drugs like heroine, cocaine, crack, and marihuana, as well as alcohol, are the worst of all due to their high capacity to cause dependence; how quick they do it, the intensity and modality of such dependence; their influence on causing criminal behavior; their high capacity to cause illnesses, disability, death and behavior disorders.”
“However, we cannot forget that alcohol, tobacco, and psychoactive medicines are like a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing, which can increasingly cause damage and lead to harmful situations like those caused by illegal drugs. The sad thing is that people don’t realize this,” Dr. Gonzalez concluded.