Alcoholics Exist, They Just Function Well

A friend confided in me about his brother’s continued struggle with khat and cigarette addictions. That confession brought to my mind all the people in our lives we feel are dealing with alcohol abuse.

Our relationship with alcohol or khat is too normalised it but often goes unspoken. Each of us has a family member or a friend who we know has turned their social drinking habit into a lifestyle. I understand this is a tough question to bring to the fore, especially around friends, but it is one that could improve social lives.

Yet we look the other way when matters become too awkward and uncomfortable. I notice many that are blinded by the care they have for loved ones. Others feel no need to address this issue, out of a dislike of confrontation or a failure to believe it is their business.

Few speak to their loved ones about the dangers of using drugs yet view alcohol abuse as a character trait not to be worried about.

We often hear people say, “Oh, he is always like that when he drinks”, or “she likes to drink that areqe too much.”

Yet there is never any mention of alcoholism. There is no sense of reflection on the amount of alcohol that is consumed or the many destructive effects it has on a person’s life.

Functional alcoholism in Ethiopia is a significant problem. People who have it may not spend the night unconscious on the street because they are drunk, but they exhibit signs of alcoholism and are not living up to their potential.

I remember a neighbour who would come home drunk in the middle of the night. Even though my house was a few doors down, I could hear him banging on the door incessantly. He would often call out his wife’s name and scream obscenities loud enough to wake the whole neighbourhood.

I found out later this was because his wife locks him out if he came home late. This continued for years. He never changed but neither did she. I wondered if he considered his drinking a problem or a character flaw.

Our drinking culture is nothing short of a national sport. Any place that serves beer is sure to have a booming business.

A friend who had recently stopped drinking beer invited me for coffee, mentioning he had turned over a new leaf in life. After one cup of macchiato, he offered another. I musingly accepted but once finished, he offered again. I asked why he kept ordering.

He looked conflicted when answering, “What else are we to do?”

He gradually went back to drinking.

Research has shown that men are more likely to develop alcoholism than women. In fact, it has been shown that men are twice as likely to abuse alcohol as women.

Is it because of the sense of responsibilities women hold, or that they are more likely to speak about and deal with their feelings more effectively? Is it that, even though either gender drinks, the ability to hold one’s liquor is an attribute fancied by the male group? Is it a cultural problem?

Even when family members know the effect drinking has on some people, they find it hard to deny them a drink. Before we could try to do anything about this problem, we must acknowledge that it exists. Once accepted we can search for a way of addressing it, including the professional assistance available at specialised hospitals.

When we deny the problem, we are denying them a future. Alcohol takes over people’s ability to live up to their potential. The support we offer those overcoming alcoholism could mean the difference between fulfilling their potential or wasting it. We should care and work for people dealing with this struggle to find the health and happiness all of us deserve.


By Hanna Haile (
Hanna Haile ( is an Ethiopian writer and social worker. She is one of the organizers of Poetic Saturdays at Fendika Cultural Centre in Addis Abeba and at Terara Bar & Kitchen in Hawassa, where a stage is open to those who celebrate art through performances on the first and second Saturday of each month.

Published on Sep 01,2018 [ Vol 19 ,No 957]



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