Health & Fitness

Quitting alcohol needs expert help


Alcoholism concept. FILE PHOTO | NMG



  • Every person who gets into problems with alcohol gets there via a different route.
  • Only an expert will be able to walk with you in tracing where it all started for you and hence the best way out in your particular case.

Question: What is the appropriate strategy for quitting alcohol? I am stuck with this bad habit that is rendering me hopeless.


It is now almost a year since I was appointed Presidential Advisor on Mental Health, a position I accepted with humility. In the course of the discharge of this mandate, I have come across many Kenyans in different parts of the country.

One of the most frequently asked questions by the people I meet is whether the stigma of mental illness will ever come to an end. Many are surprised by the truth, which is that in Kenya, the stigma is mostly on its’ way out and is now mostly to be found among the older people.

The youth, who are the many in terms of the population have no such stigmatisation of mental illness and it is clear that we are finally on the winning side of history of stigma.

You sound like one of my favourite people who have decided to come out with it and state categorically what ails them. They do not hide when they have a mental health need. Put differently, this growing group of Kenyans know that “is it OK not to be OK".

Early this year we saw a 20-year-old student who came to us following a Google search for mental health specialists in Nairobi. She had also done a search for the symptoms that she was experiencing and had determined that she had a major depressive disorder.

For the previous six weeks, she was not sleeping well and was waking up at 3 am most nights. In the morning she felt tired, sad and found she did not enjoy anything anymore. She had withdrawn from her friends and family and knew that she was more irritable than usual.

She worried all the time, felt hopeless and worthless and had contemplated suicide a number of times. All these symptoms were new and alien to her character. She knew she was changing and did not like the person she was becoming.

Like you, she did not like the fact that she was drinking more than usual and also that the drinking was placing her in danger because her friends left her in the drinking places alone twice on successive weekends. As she put it later, it was by the grace of God that she was not raped.

Her grades plummeted and she did not hand in her schoolwork on time. All this made her feelings of hopelessness worse and so she drank even more.

Upon full evaluation, it was clear that she was indeed suffering from a major depressive disorder, and she needed treatment in hospital, to enable her deal with both the suicidal thoughts and the challenges posed by uncontrolled drinking (perhaps you can relate to this).

It was at this point that hell broke loose. Her mother and the pastor from the local church descended on the girl, Bible in hand and commanded (in a very loud voice) the demons to depart from her. The feelings of sadness and hopelessness could be easily overcome by reading the scriptures and believing in God with more sincerity.

This condition of depression was the creation of the West and was the product of poor parenting. The girl was ordered to leave and go back to class to work hard and pray.

A few days later, in a state of deep despair, she took a major overdose of some tablets and was in intensive care for a week. Her family then decided to try treatment for the depression and have not looked back.

They are happy with her progress. They have joined another church, the girl is back at school and doing well, and no longer feels suicidal. She is still on medication and attends counselling sessions every two weeks.

Importantly, she no longer uses alcohol to deal with her pain of the depression and her relationship with her parents is, according to her, better than it has ever been. It took a near-tragedy to bring her back to a good place.

Now that you have decided to quit alcohol, you must take the next step which is to seek help. Every person who gets into problems with alcohol gets there via a different route.

Some get there because they are biologically predisposed, others because of social reasons like easy access to alcohol or pressure from peers or as we have seen in the case of the girl, because of psychological reasons such as depression, anxiety or some other mental illness.

Only an expert will be able to walk with you in tracing where it all started for you and hence the best way out in your particular case.

Congratulation for being a wise and modern Kenyan not afraid of stating that you need help without the fear of being stigmatized by a slowly diminishing group of ignorant Kenyans.