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What A Reformed Alcoholic In Patna Has To Say About Prohibition

"I am not so sure."

22/08/2016 10:48 AM IST | Updated 22/08/2016 11:35 AM IST
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Elizabeth Waugh

Note: Following is thedetailed account of a recovering alcoholic facing prohibition in Nitish Kumar's Bihar. He asked to remain anonymous and spoke with Contributing Editor Shivam Vij.

I cannot tell you my name. Anonymity is the foundational principle of Alcoholics Anonymous, not just for reasons of privacy. We believe in principles over personality.

I was in college when I had the first sip of alcohol, back in 1988. But it was only in 1994 that I think I became addicted to alcohol. I was born in Patna in 1970, but studied elsewhere, and got a good government job in another state. My alcohol addiction became so severe over the years that my fancy government job became untenable. In 2011, my wife divorced me and in 2012, after resigning from my job, I moved back to Patna.

You must understand that social drinking and addiction are very different things. There are many people who can stop at a few drinks when they are just a little high. They don't need a drink every evening. They drink in parties and with friends, especially on weekends.

Alcohol addiction is a term to be used carefully. Addiction is such dependence on alcohol – or recreational drugs for that matter – when one's life becomes unmanageable, and one develops a dependence on alcohol or drugs. There are many symptoms of alcohol addiction.

When you are an addict, alcohol becomes a pre-occupation, a compulsion. The addiction makes you self-centred, selfish and self-destructive. AA has a twelve-point test, if you say yes to four or more of those questions, you are an addict who needs help.

I started taking help in 2005 by going to de-addiction centres. That helped me a lot but I would again start drinking morning to night. Whenever I would drink at a stretch of 2-7 days, I would go into rehab again. Even in Patna I have spent time at a de-addiction centre.

Although I've had very little alcohol in the last ten years, I would keep relapsing into addiction. De-addiction centres helped a lot but I wanted a more permanent cure. That's when I joined a local Alcoholics Anonymous in Patna. In my first 5 days of AA, I attended six meetings. I go every week now. It's been thirteen months I haven't had a drop of alcohol. I now feel confident of rebuilding my life. I will take up a job or start a business.

In AA meetings, I felt as if there was presence of God. If you are down with cancer, AIDS, diabetes, or even a fever, people will sympathise with you, help you, say wish you a speedy recovery. But no one symapthises with alcohol addicts. We are looked down upon, left to fend for ourselves. Only an addict can understand another, an only an addict can help another keep clean. That is why AA works.

When the Bihar government implemented prohibition in April this year, I was very happy. There's nothing better they could have done for me while I was desperately trying to quit drinking. There was no bar in the city which I had not frequented. I was happy to see them all shut down. The word BAR on the signboards was no longer there to beckon me from my clean state back into helpless addiction.

But some months later, I am not so sure. If I really want to procure a bottle, I will find a way, breaking the law, risking arrest, paying a premium price to a bootlegger. I have heard many in Patna are doing so. Even when there were dry days, such as on election on Gandhi's birthday, I was able to procure a bottle or two. It was tough, but I would get it. It is a sign of an addict that one will get his bottle come what may. After all, addiction disease leads you to becoming selfish and self-destructive. An addict will steal and fight for a bottle.

Take the example of drugs. Recreational drugs are banned across India. Yet there is so much drug addiction. The de-addiction centres are full of them. There is even a Narcotics Anonymous in Patna.

Prohibition was imposed in the United States in 1920 but could not succeed. It was lifted after 13 years. When it could not succeed in the US how can it succeed in Bihar of all places?

What is the government trying to do? Is it trying to help addicts not take alcohol, or is it completely trying to ban alcohol as a social and moral evil?

While the rich can easily access their tipple, the poor take to spurious liquor. You saw the hooch deaths in Gopalganj. On Patna's streets, I notice a lot more people openly smoking marijuana. Prohibition will definitely lead to more drug abuse.

At the same time, I do have mixed feelings, as it has improved the lives of a lot of poor people not just in the villages but also in Patna.

I know an unskilled construction labourer who would spend half his daily wage on buying alcohol pouches. His work, life and family suffered. After prohibition came into force, the first ten days, he suffered withdrawal symptoms. Vomiting and an upset stomach didn't let him work. But after ten days he was fine and his life is much better now.

One day he and five of his friends decided to illegally procure some alcohol. But it is so expensive that they could afford to buy only a bottle of beer after pooling in Rs 100 each. That's all they could manage! Stories like these, along with my own efforts to stay clean, make it difficult to fully support or oppose prohibition.

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