“Everything about my life was either destroyed, delayed or disrupted by alcohol abuse. But at a certain point in my life, I was able to cut down on the drinking significantly and pushed on with my education to diploma level. After acquiring a Diploma in Business Administration, I slipped back to my old drinking pattern, although my excuse was always joblessness,” Albert Elwa Louis narrates his struggle with alcoholism.
Later, through the connection of a family member, he got a fairly good job with a company that was based in Pakuba (Nwoya District) providing logistical support to the multinationals that were carrying out oil exploration in the area. He stayed in the job for three months.
After three months of work, he was handed all his salary and given a one-week leave.
“Getting to Kampala, the devil was alert! The next time I called my boss was after a month, and I was of coursejobless. I had partied away my three months’ salary. At this point, even my fiancée abandoned me and I slipped into depression. Those were the most unhappy days of my life,” Elwa recounts.
According to the National (American) Survey on Drug Use and Health, about one in 13 working adults has an alcohol use disorder. Though there is no statistical data on people in employment struggling with substance abuse in Uganda today, the trend is visible in workplaces.
To Elwa, it was a miracle that while he was living like a destitute, he met an old friend who talked to him about rehabilitation. “I convinced my family to pay for me to get into rehab at a private facility and it has been 11 years since I last had a drink,” he shares.
Like Elwa, Roselyne Nabukeera is not afraid to share her struggle with abusing drugs, and how it cost her a career, which she hopes she can redeem.
“It started with smoking shisha, and later, we would mix weed in there, until it became a habit. I had a friend in whose house we would go after work and hang out. I started skipping work at my job at the bank with excuses, and gradually I started missing for days,” she says. With this kind of behaviour, she was fired and it became difficult for her to get another.
“I was literally high all the time. I could no longer pay my rent, so I returned to my parents’ home. But my relatives helped take me to rehab two months ago,” she shares.
How addictions are formed
Edward Sempiira, the executive director Life Back Foundation Uganda: Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre, shares that when we talk about substance, we are referring to alcohol and other drugs that are accepted to be used in society. But abuse means these are no longer used in a normal way.
Before one gets to abuse, there are stages; starting with experimentation, to taste, and positive feeling. Next, it becomes a habit, which leads to dependence on the substance and finally, it becomes an addiction.
“Drugs can start affecting one’s career and life when they reach the two last stages where their body becomes dependent,” he says.
Effects on the job
“Normally, at these stages, one starts creating patterns of intake usually every morning before they do anything else. In the afternoons, they usually want to take an after-meal drug, and then later in the evening before they sleep. Unfortunately, for many substance abusers, they do not stop until they feel the effect. For example, a person using weed will not stop, until they are high,” he explains.
Furthermore, such a person excuses themselves from work or other responsibilities to enjoy a substance which deteriorates concentration on their duties and responsibilities, not to mention utterly having them disconnected from what is going on.
“Imagine how hard it must be for someone with a hangover in the morning to wake up for work! They won’t make it to work at the reporting time, or sometimes do not even make it to work. Depending on where one works, that kind of behaviour can cost them the job,” Sempiira says.
Effect on quality of work
He further shares that they have been getting clients from organisations usually brought in by their human resource officers who claim they are good employees except for their substance abuse. “This means that behaviour reduces quality of work,” he adds.
With this low productivity, many lose their jobs or their business begins to crumble, depression sets in and the abuse only worsens.
When to seek help
Edward Sempiira, the executive director Life Back Foundation Uganda: Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre, notes that one of the challenges is that more than 90 per cent of people with addiction problems do not accept that they do. But if one realises that they have an addiction, which is a good step to begin with. “Addiction is a psychological problem and usually, we just talk to the patients, and advise them or even take them out of places, situations and people that encourage their addictions,” Sempiira says.