How people become alcoholics

Many celebs and ordinary people are drinking their way to divorce, poverty

In Summary

• Factors behind alcoholism include personal choice, family history and peer pressure 

• Others are availability of alcohol and aggressive marketing by alcohol manufacturers


He sold alcohol but fell victim to his merchandise. It started as harmless drinking with his customers while delivering. Before he knew it, the drinking had cost him his job.

Peter Muriuki, a taxi driver in Nairobi, was a salesman for an alcoholic beverage distributor.

Every morning, he would get into a company van fully loaded with cartons of alcohol for distributing to bars in his sales territory.

“Business was good and I had lots of money,” Muriuki says. “Bar owners would offer me complimentary drinks as we discussed sales. I saw nothing wrong with taking a drink while on duty. I would take at least one drink at each bar I visited. By the end of the day, I would be drunk.”

The drinking cost him his job. Relations with his wife and children deteriorated. Muriuki is now sober and struggling to rebuild his life. “I was in a job where alcohol was freely available. That’s what affected me,” he says.

Ronnie Karani, now in his mid-40s, must take a stiff drink each morning before he gets to work. During the day, he sneaks out for a tot of vodka. At night, he must take at least a glass of vodka, without which he will get nightmares in bed.

“I have so many problems,” Ronnie says. “I drink to forget my problems. People look down on me but I am human and deserve respect.”

Muriuki and Karani are among an estimated 3 million Kenyans suffering from alcohol use disorder, according to a 2019 report by Nacada. Approximately 10 per cent of Kenyans aged 15-65 are suffering from the addiction.

Alcohol use disorder, commonly known as alcoholism, is a condition in which the individual cannot control his or her alcohol consumption despite negative consequences on their personal life, health, relationships and finances.

There are many reasons why people get addicted to alcohol. Damaris Wakesho, a counsellor in Nairobi, says alcoholism is a consequence of personal choice, family history, peer pressure, availability of alcohol and aggressive marketing by alcohol manufacturers.

“A child may have been with the parents on drinking sprees from a young age all the way to adulthood,” Wakesho says. “If somebody says alcohol is bad, the child will not believe it because parents are a very significant influence in a child’s life,” she explains.

Besides, alcohol is a big part of the cultural traditions in some communities.

It is now known that alcohol abuse creates lasting changes in the brain, which makes individuals vulnerable to relapsing. Without a drink, alcoholics display body tremors, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea and sweating. In severe cases, the lack of alcohol causes fever, seizures or hallucinations.

“Counselling can help an alcoholic, but the individual must be willing to change for it to work,” Wakesho says.

“We can’t completely condemn the person in such a situation because everybody has some positives within. Accept the person by focusing on his or her strengths.”

Edited by T Jalio

This story first appeared on Sasa Digital, accessible on Sundays by dialling *550*3#