Alcohol made me kill

Baraka Obonyo, a former alcoholic and now undergoing rehabilitation in Asumbi Homa bay county Photo: Collins Oduor

Killing a man made me quit

For Barack Obonyo, 29, the transformation came when he murdered someone while under the influence of alcohol.

An argument started when they were drinking, escalating into a big fight, and when it was over, Obonyo had killed a man.

"In a furious rage, I charged at him and hit him. He fell hard on the ground, and that was it," he says.

Even though he served his jail term, and was released, he says he wishes he had known when to stop.

He saw signs that he was an alcoholic; like when he woke up and reached for his bottle before he could brush his teeth or wash his face, or when he didn't shower for days, spending all the time he had at the bar, drowning in alcohol and begging for more.

"I could not stop, alcohol controlled everything I did," he says.

Until it crowded his judgement and he hit a man to death.

His struggle with alcoholism started when he was in primary school. Peer influence, and friends who could sneak it to him got him hooked. He didn't proceed to secondary school, he instead chose a life of alcoholism.

Since he had no job, he resorted to stealing, begging and conning people to get money to feed his addiction.

"Addiction causes you to lose self-worth. I was begging from people younger than me, and my parents were so ashamed of the person I was becoming," he says.

His wake up call was when he went to prison, and came back to a distraught mother who begged him to stop.

"I realise that I was hurting more people with my alcoholism, so I went to a rehabilitation center," he says.

It is his tenth month being sober, and his only regret is wallowing in alcohol for too long.              

Grace Kemunto, a former alcoholic and now a farmer in Kisii county

I lost my teeth, thanks to the bottle!

Four years ago, Grace Kemunto woke up and realised that her four front teeth were missing.

Her bed was bloody, her head was aching, and even though she tried recollecting events of the previous night, everything was coming to her in blurry fragments.

Then she remembered: the drinking, the dancing, the argument with her husband who doubled up as her drinking partner, the first punch on her face, followed by another, and the final one that landed on her mouth and broke her teeth.

"My husband and I were alcoholics who fought hard when drunk, and made up when the alcohol faded. Neighbours got used to our fights," says Kemunto.

Their marriage was riddled with numerous battles, especially when they were intoxicated. Their children always found themselves on the receiving end when the blows rained, and their parents turned their anger on them.

"I would beat up my children so much that they were scared of me. They would whisper and huddle in a corner when they saw me coming home," she says.

Her struggle with alcohol began six years ago in Kebabe, Kisii County, when she ventured into the business of selling chang'aa.

When she started, it was a means of earning a living. However, the temptation to gulp a glass of her potent drink would overwhelm her, especially when her customers nudged her to taste.

"Before I knew it, I couldn't go a day without drinking," she says.

Dr Catheryn Mutisya, consultant psychiatrist in Nairobi says the inability to stop, and when one cannot function without having alcohol in the body is a sure sign of addiction.

Drinking, at least for Kemunto, provided a temporary escape to the reality of poverty and hopelessness she was living in.

"Most addicts use alcohol as comfort and distraction so that they can feel good about themselves," say Dr Mutisya.

Before long, Kemunto's husband joined her in business and drinking. Together they spiralled into alcoholics who could barely feed their families.

Kari Saul, a missionary in the area says he lost count on the number of times he found them sleeping in ditches, too drunk to go home.

Kemunto says she always wanted to stop, but had no will, until she woke up and her teeth were gone.

"I knew it was either I change, or die," she says.

She chose to change. It was a difficult choice, because the withdrawal stage was brutal on her body.

"I had constant headaches, I lost weight, but my missing teeth became a constant reminder that I have to be sober," she says.

Waking up without teeth, and finally remembering that she had lost them when she had an argument with her husband on who should carry a bucket home was enough to make her quit.

"Excess alcohol can make you do crazy things, I learnt the hard way," she says.

It has been a year since she last drunk alcohol. Her husband also quit, and they have since ventured into different businesses.

Ishmael Otieno, a former alcoholic and now a teacher at Ong'adi primary school in Kisumu county.

Seeing my father break down was my 'aha' moment

When Ismael Obura, 30, talks about his life as an alcoholic, he terms it as 'a wasted period'. It started when he went for a funeral in Asembo, Siaya County, and someone sneaked him a sachet of spirit.

He was a form two student, willing to experiment with drugs and alcohol in an effort to fit in.

Upon completing secondary school, alcoholism took over his life and controlled it.

He went to teachers training college, but his love for the bottle made it impossible for him to look for a job.

His change came when his father called him for a 'man to man' talk – and in that talk, he saw his father break down.

"I have never seen my father so disappointed. Tears were forming in his eyes, and it hurt me," says Obura.

In those tears, he saw desperation – of a father needing his son to change his ways.

Before meeting his father, he had returned home so drunk, he climbed the gate, tore his clothes and collapsed in bed, unaware of his surroundings.

"I was a careless drunkard who spent all my money on alcohol," he says.

His father's tears led to his transformation. He is now a primary school teacher who spends most of his time mentoring young people not to slip like he did. He says young people are more vulnerable to being introduced to alcohol and drugs, and he is always on the lookout for his pupils, constantly reminding them of the effects.

"Alcohol almost killed me..." he says pensively.

It is almost five years since he took alcohol, and says stopping was the best decision he ever made.

Fact file

Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance in Kenya and poses the greatest harm to Kenyans. The National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse( NACADA) survey in 2012 show that 13.3 per cent of Kenyans are currently using alcohol, compared to the 9.1 percent using tobacco and 1.0 percent using bhang. More men than women, shows the report, use intoxicating substances

In 2012, about 3.3 million deaths (5.9 percent) of all global deaths were attributable to alcohol consumption, according to the World Health Organisation 2014 status report on alcohol and health. In Kenya, the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) reports that an estimated 3,000 deaths from road accidents occur annually. NTSA further reports that most of these fatal road traffic crashes occur between 5pm and 10pm (the peak being 10pm) and some of the reasons include drunken driving, drunken riding and drunken walking. Based on days of the week, the highest fatalities occur on Saturday followed by Sunday and again, some of the probable causes are related to alcohol.

What increases your chances of being alcoholic?

Risk factors for alcohol dependence

1. Age –the earlier you start drinking, the greater the risk of becoming addicted

2. Mental health problems such as depression and anxiety

3. Environmental factors – if your friends drink, you're likely to also start drinking and if you live in a culture where alcohol is common and isn't frowned upon, your chances are heightened.

4. Family history. You're more likely to become dependent on alcohol if you have a parent or close relative who is an alcoholic. But just because you have a genetic predisposition towards alcoholism doesn't necessarily mean you'll become one. "Alcoholism certainly has a genetic basis in some people. Some people have a predisposition for any kind of drug abuse. They all follow relatively similar neurological patterns, "explains Anup Devani, a molecular biologist and laboratory director at GeneMetrics.

5. Your personality can also be a contributing factor: "If for example you're shy or introverted and alcohol helps you come out of your shell, this may put you at a risk for more and more usage," says Dr. Francisca Ongecha, a lecturer at Kenyatta University's Department of Medicine, Therapeutics, Dermatology and Psychiatry.