The lowdown on being high

"I got into the profession because the very idea of one ill person helping another ill person and vice versa to cure themselves intrigued me.

Written by Rohan Swamy | Published:January 19, 2009 12:49 am

Leonard Blumenthal,talks about alcoholics and the drive that propels him to work for Alcoholics Anonymous

“I got into the profession because the very idea of one ill person helping another ill person and vice versa to cure themselves intrigued me. I had gone for an Alcoholic Anonymous (AA) meeting one late Saturday evening on the insistence of a friend,who asked me to come and see how the group met. When I saw the group of alcoholics help each other to quit the habit I was impressed and decided to take it up full time as a profession. And that’s what I have been doing for the last 35 years,” says Leonard Blumenthal,Chairman of Alcoholics Anonymous. Leonard,who hails from New York,was in town on Friday for a meeting of the AA Inter-group Pune to speak about the therapeutic value of AA for people suffering from alcoholism.

He says,”The problem in India,as far as alcoholism as a disease is concerned,is still not alarming. Even though India is the largest importer of foreign made alcohol and the biggest producer in Asia the,per person consumption of alcohol in India per year is very less as compared to America or Europe. The problem however is steadily on the rise even here and if this rise is not checked then in another 10 years about 80 percent of the employed sector will be alcoholics.”

The AA was founded in 1935,in New York by a stockbroker and an Ohio based Surgeon. It quickly spread to all parts of the world and landed in India in 1957. Blumenthal says,”The members of AA stay away from alcohol,one drink one day at a time. They maintain their sobriety by sharing their experiences and by the suggested twelve steps method for recovery from alcoholism. The members come together to discuss their problems and this actually acts as a therapy as they themselves encourage one another not to go back to drinking,instead they help each other in the rehabilitation process The program works for anyone and everyone who has a desire to stop drinking. Moreover it is a powerful motivator and anyone who has been a part of the program usually does think twice about going back for a drink.

He however accepts that the method is not foolproof “the success rate might not be the highest but it is definitely the most effective tool in curing the disease called alcoholism. Although it is not foolproof because some people do go back to drinking and that is something that we cannot help but yes it is the best way for an alcoholic to redeem himself or herself.”

About the scene in India as far as AA is concerned he says,”Most alcoholics are reluctant to accept the problem because they are afraid of the social stigma attached with it. That is probably a reason as to why not many people are coming forward to attend the AA meetings. What India needs is a direct contact between the medical fraternity and AA so that the doctors can recommend the patients to us whenever they encounter them.”

The issue of alcoholism spreading its tentacles through the length and breadth of the global society was fast on the rise. It is indeed appalling to see more and more working professionals students and even poor people taking to alcohol as a means to escape from their troubles. What most people don’t realize that this is a disease,which according to the World Health Organisation kills 100 times more users than drug abusers,he says grim faced.

So what advice does he have for the youth or for professionals who are seeking to take to alcoholism to forget their troubles,”Alcohol is not the way out,it might temporarily bring a sense of solace or confidence but the truth is that it does damage a person emotionally and mentally far more than physically. The only way out is by educating the people and by making them aware that taking to the bottle is indeed a very bad decision,” he says with a thin smile.

Avg Alcohol consumption per person in India per year: 2 litres
* Total percentage of alcohol produced in the world imported by India: 7 per cent.
* No of deaths in a year due to alcohol consumption: 350 million.
* Alcohol production in India: 2500 million litres

India is the highest producer for alcohol in Asia with the current production valued at 65 per cent

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