The Family Club Concept of Stemming Alcoholism And Drug Addiction


Meditation before the event
"The Family Club approach is based on the General Theory of Systems, which contemplates that every individual behaviour depends not only on the internal stimuli, but especially on the quality of his/her communication and interaction with the community where every individual lives and works. The treatment is different from the classic psychotherapy, because it is not based on an artificial group of patients, but on a group of people that represents the society, that belongs to the society and entertains a dynamic relationship with the society…"

(Excerpt from booklet introducing the European School of Alcohology).

The Club here is the basic unit of a system that was thought out in the 1960s by Prof Vladimir Hudolin, psychiatrist and international expert on drug and alcohol related problems. He was Director of the Clinic for Neurology, Psychiatry and Medical Psychology in the University Hospital in Zagreb. The first Club in Italy was formed in 1979 in Trieste, Italy and the initiative has evolved over the years and has spread throughout the world.

Urgent need to stem alcoholism

Why this article you may well ask. Its relevance is extremely significant to us in Sri Lanka. Alcoholism is a scourge in this beautiful country of ours where people are decent, well-mannered and caring of each other until the death dealing combination of dangerous drugs and alcohol takes hold of persons. The weaklings who succumb are dragged down to the depths of living hell and with them are dragged their wives and children, parents if living, and siblings. There is no possibility of denying this problem of people addicted to alcohol and drugs. The greater problem is the apparent thriving of those who supply alcohol and drugs, purely for personal wealth. In this New Year season there is acute aggravation since the Sinhala villager and town dweller who make their way to their village homes consider that alcohol, whether arrack or gut rot by the name of kasippu, is a must-have for celebration. Stepping over the limit in imbibing is easy, and often occurs.

A second reason for this article is that I met Prof Francesco Piani, Professor of Psychiatry and President of the European School of Alcohology and Ecological Psychiatry, who is deeply involved in the Club concept and carries out training in many countries, Sri Lanka included. His training workshops concentrate on imparting correct attitudes and techniques to the Servant-Teachers who facilitate Club meetings and keep the Clubs alive and vibrant.

A third reason is that Deshabandhu Olcott Gunasekera is an active member of the World Association of Clubs of Alcoholics in Treatment (WACAT). As he pointed out, the tenets which govern this approach such as self development, here and now, cyclic causality are very much in tandem with the way of life as preached by the Buddha – you work out your own deliverance; the path shown by the Teacher with helpers, particularly your family, ever willing to assist you.

Family Clubs

The WACAT was established in 2007 in Udine, Italy with the attendance of 11 Italian delegates and 19 from around the world. It is a global network that promotes the formation of Clubs where alcoholics and their families meet, discuss problems and solve them with the aid of trained Servant-Teachers who primarily serve as coordinators and facilitators. Remedial measures thought out and actions embarked on are solely by club members. No one teaches or lectures; all discussions and actions are from the members. Thus the quality of life of Club members improves, which benefit spreads to the community at large. Ultimately the country too benefits.

A club comprises a maximum of twelve families. However, a Club can be constituted by just two or three families. Meetings are held once a week at an agreed time and location. Usually the person with a drinking problem or a drinking plus drug-addiction problem fights shy of attending meetings but the spouse and other members of the family attend. After some time the person with the addiction problem too attends meetings. The ability to discuss their individual personal problems related to alcoholism and drug-addition freely in a Club is a sign of maturity. The initiative to join a club is voluntary but may be directed by the community or an alcohol rehab unit in a Hospital.

Dynamic of the clubs is sensibilisation with no psychotherapeutic intervention, nor psychiatric intervention, unless the person needs such treatment due to acuteness of the case. The meeting is purely a psychosocial gathering of people who belong to a community and have trust and faith in each other, with confidentiality ensured. The method adopted is free communication. There is mutual influence and a process of growing means success, since the addict grows out of his addiction and into a life of abstinence and responsibility. A condition or rule that prevails is: ‘Here and Now.’

Prof Francesco Piani, naturally has full faith in the efficacy of these clubs to wean the alcoholic or drug addict from his/her addition. He bases his confidence on experience and what he has witnessed firsthand. I expressed doubts. Would a village or urban addict taking his kasippu to his own detriment and that of his family join a club voluntarily and attend meetings? Even more cogently, would he speak about himself and the problem created by him? You well know how ‘macho’ our men are; how terribly stubborn, how proud and unwilling to admit defeat and being the person guilty of causing family disharmony. But both Prof Piani and Olcott Gunasekera assured me that in Sri Lanka clubs have been successful, more so in the Kurunegala district where they have worked since 2007.

Prof Piani spent time in the Island at the beginning of April this year conducting a Regional Sensibilisation Course on this approach in collaboration with the Ministry of Health. Participants were from Sri Lanka, Thailand and Malaysia. He said he had a ‘good feeling’; he is positively assured that the clubs are meeting with success. "Human nature is all the same. Whether in Italy or Sri Lanka drinking is a severe social problem. In Italy it may be worse since wine substitutes for water at meals and the wealthier people become, the greater their intake of alcoholic drinks and drugs. There exists a tradition of alcohol intake. The crisis is not an economic one but a social one where excessive drinking affects the standard and quality of a person’s life and thus his family and the community." In Sri Lanka in addition to alcoholism being a social problem it is an acute economic problem too.

Deshabandhu Gunasekera pointed out that alcoholism is not a disease. It is treated thus in families and in hospitals, which is the wrong approach to eradicating this menace. "There is a National Alcohol Policy that is being developed at the Ministry of Health level, which has to be upheld and people made aware of. Nearly 30 Medical Officers of Health have undergone training in this approach and several have undergone training even in Italy. The public and private sectors should combine their efforts to rid this country of this menace for a better Sri Lanka." He explained the constitution of Kalana Mithuru Pavul Samaja under the auspices of the Sri Lanka National Association of Family Clubs. The family unit is strong in our society hence these groups or clubs, which are family based, have to succeed in weaning addicts away from their addiction and improving their quality of life in the family and in society.

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