First came the fun; alcohol gave him an intriguing feeling of elation. Then an irresistible urge to keep going; his friends were on hand to urge him on. Dependency followed; Gitau could not put his bottle down.
When a tempest shook his life, he woke from his stupor. Ten years had passed him by, and left behind important lessons.
Gitau recovered , and today, he is a certified addictions professional by NACADA. He is a member of the International Society of Substance Use Professionals and the World Federation Against Drugs.
Gitau is the director of Uhai Centre Limited, a counselling and consultancy firm in Thika.
You have a past relationship with alcoholism…
I started when I was in Form Two in 1993. This was fuelled by the desire to assume adult roles and become independent. In college, I drank casually with peers to socialise. After graduating and failing to find a job, I started binging, and soon, drinking became an all-day affair, leading to addiction.
Why are the youth most at risk of drug abuse?
Adolescence is a developmental period when youth are exposed to new ideas and behaviour through increased association with people and organisations beyond their background. Significant changes occur in the adolescent brain, often leading to poorly thought-out decisions.
What was the turning point?
After some time, I was taking alcohol, not for fun anymore, but for my body to function ‘normally’. I could get sick, experience tremors but soonest I drank, this would peter out. My health had deteriorated as I became disoriented. Family and friends stopped trusting me. I had also neglected my obligations of a father and husband. My life was literally tearing apart. I had to abandon alcoholism lest I lost everything.
What do you specifically do to address the problem of substance abuse and alcoholism?
I run a drugs prevention programme using preventive communication and motivational mentorship strategy. My approach is diverse and targets all social settings.
As an addiction counsellor, how do you help addicts recover?
I conduct one-on-one counselling sessions. Depending on the extent of the problem, I may refer the person to in-patient treatment. Most importantly, I advocate for prevention. Notably, many rehabilitation centres that are not accredited by NACADA have commercialised treatment, which is unethical and condemnable.
What is the extent of your activities?
So far, I have had interactions with various government agencies, corporate institutions, schools and churches, where I have also conducted sensitisation and training on alcohol and drug abuse. I have visited all public primary and secondary schools and tertiary institutions within Thika Town Constituency with the support area MP Hon. Eng. Patrick Wainaina.
What do you ultimately hope to achieve?
It is worth acknowledging that fighting alcoholism, drugs and substance abuse means promoting inclusive development. I am, therefore, determined to ensure that all people have access to information on harmful effects of drugs, by reaching out to the most vulnerable populations, particularly among youth and children. With concerted efforts, it is possible to achieve alcohol and drugs-free communities.
In what significant ways has your life since changed?
I have restored the community’s trust in me; people seek for my advice. I have mentored many young people and adults alike and helped them to transform. I am now a responsible family man, who contributes to community development. In 2017, I graduated with a Master in Project Planning and Management from the University of Nairobi. I have my lif