Drug addiction and society in Azerbaijan - to judge or to help?
“It all started with alcohol. Afterwards, when I was already 16, I decided to try weed. I asked my friend to bring me hashish. I tried it and liked it. Since then things were off and rolling!”
Nargiz Akhmedova (her name has been changed for ethical reasons – author’s note) is 27. She started using drugs (first ‘soft’ ones) at the age of 16. By the age of 20, she was already heavily addicted to heroin. Now she is undergoing treatment for drug addiction.
“When you get into this circle, there is always someone using harder drugs. And if until that time it had been something just for fun, little by little drugs occupy the mind.”
Nargiz’s ‘older friends’ persuaded her to first do an intramuscular injection and then to inject into a vein.
“I always tried to justify my deeds. I was short of dry drugs and I was experiencing withdrawals. Eventually the time came when I went to my friends and asked them for ‘slamming’ (drug injection into a vein). Having hit up, I realized that it was just what I needed,” said Nargiz.
Drug abuse rates have been increasing in Azerbaijan by the year. In 2010, there were about 25,000 addicts. In 2017, the number increased to around 30,000.
Back in 2006 there was only about 6 000. Naturally, statistics don’t reflect the real number of drug addicts. According to the UN, to determine the real number of drug addicts in a country, the number of registered drug addicts should be multiplied by four.
The number of drug addicts in Azerbaijan is rapidly increasing, with ages getting younger and younger from year to year. According to Lyudmila Jafarova, a senior drug therapist, today drugs have even entered schools – and these aren’t just isolated cases. According to statistics, over 70% of drug addicts first tried drugs at the age of 15.
Nargiz was lucky. Her relatives sent her to a Moscow-based drug addiction treatment centre which practices a ’12-step’ treatment program aimed at solving the complexities of alcohol and drug addiction problems.
Nargiz says the methods used at the Azerbaijani Republican Drug Treatment Center where she had initially undergone treatment were completely different from those used worldwide. Detoxification is carried out whenever necessary. It’s a methadone therapy which reliefs withdrawal symptoms.
“In essence it’s the substitution of one dependency by another. There is no work related to spiritual values, discipline or social life, which is probably the most important for a person trying to get rid of drug addiction.
“I thought I would die without recovering; I knew there were no former drug addicts and I was finished; everyone turned back on me and my life had been ruined. I knew there was a drug rehabilitation clinic somewhere which helped to overcome drug addiction. However, I understood that nobody would send me there since it was very expensive.”
Nargiz’s grandmother was the only one who knew that she was using drugs, and it was her grandmother who paid off her debts. She felt pity for her and gave her money.
“I talked to her openly, but every time I tried to convince her that I could cope with it myself. That’s the key disadvantage of addicts: they are sure everything is under control.
“I deluded myself until the very last moment. If it hadn’t been for this, I would have probably turned for help earlier and would not have made so many mistakes in my life,” said Nargiz.
The most terrible thing
When she was a drug addict, she committed things that she terribly regrets now.
“I raised a hand to my mother two months before leaving for the rehabilitation centre. When I woke up in the morning, I saw that my passport, money and drugs were missing. I was shocked and sick; I came to understand that my mother had done it. She decided to isolate me because I was in a terrible place at that moment.
“I pounced into the room, started searching her things and crying: ‘Give it back to me!’ She took a walking-stick and started beating me, but I snatched the walking stick and punched her in her face. Having told her some nasty things, I turned round and went away. We didn’t talk for two months. And when I tried to establish contact with her and asked ‘will you ever forgive me?’ She didn’t answer. My mother seemed to have given up on me.”
However, in Nargiz’s opinion, something else she did was the worst:
“I gave up my friend to the police and it was the most obscene deed I had ever committed. Even now, as I am talking about it, it makes me feel bad. I had the option to either be sent to prison, or give him up instead. I was 18 and I thought my life would finish if I was taken to prison. I betrayed him.
“He quit drugs there and started performing Namaz. As for me, I got in an even worse situation. He called me from prison and congratulated me on my birthday. He said he was not angry with me and understood everything. He supported me in every way. Nevertheless, I was afraid to meet him. He met me after he had been released and offered to marry him. I didn’t marry him, but we keep in contact with each other and he supports me a lot,” said Nargiz.
Policemen came for me
Seymur Rzayev is 27. He hasn’t used drugs in over 6 years.
“I moved from the city centre to my father’s place when I was 14. I got acquainted with the guys in the area and started communicating with them. We used to smoke and drink beer together. I practically stopped attending school. Once, one of the older guys took a puff of ‘Kazbek’ (non-filter cigarettes), stuffed with hashish. I tried it in a social setting. I liked it.”
Seymur’s father was busy with his new family and his little son. His wife didn’t pay much attention to her stepson either. So, he became fully absorbed in his ‘new life’.
“All the money that my family gave me was spent on cigarettes, alcohol and hash. At the age of 16 we got high nearly every day, though I certainly didn’t regard myself as a drug addict. It all seemed to be cool, simple and funny. Sometimes I chanced to get a couple of pills of Cyclodolum, Phenazepam, and I also liked it very much,” says Seymur.
Then there was the first heroin injection:
“I felt such an easiness, a burst of energy and a sense of euphoria, that next time there were no more doubts.”
The first incident occurred at home when Seymur’s father saw his punctured arms.
“I tried to justify my actions, saying that I’d just started it and I wasn’t a drug addict. My father was yelling at me and started beating me. They didn’t let me go out. I ran away several times. Once I took away the earrings of my father’s wives and then sold them to buy drugs.
“My father found me, brought me home and locked up. He asked some workers to install metal grating on all the windows so that I couldn’t sneak out. The withdrawal symptoms were awful… it was terrible. I scuffled, shouted and insulted them; I cried, begged and pleaded,” says Seymor.
However, the home arrest didn’t help.
“Several months passed. I was clean, my father had a disciplinary talk with me nearly every day telling me that drugs were evil, that my whole life would go downhill, and I concurred with him in everything. However, deep down inside, I was sure that I wasn’t a drug addict, and that all those talks were just nonsense. I wished that I could hit up again.
“They let me go out again, but only under the condition that I would take a urine test every month. As soon as I left the house, I immediately went to my old friends and hit up the same day. This time I injected into my foot so that I couldn’t be caught again. There were no problems with the urine test because I asked my younger brother to pee into a pot and handed it to my father once a month”.
Seymur’s father practically didn’t give him any money, so he and his friend robbed the neighbour’s apartment to get some.
“The doorbell rang the very next morning. The policemen came for me. I was interrogated, beaten and maltreated. So, I confessed everything in an hour.
“My friend who accompanied me was sent to prison, whereas I escaped that fate thanks to my father. He paid them so that they let me go”.
Seymur spent seven months in a drug addiction treatment centre in Kazakhstan.
“It changed me, my mind and my attitude to life. I used drugs for seven years. Now I’ve been clean for six years.
I believe what happened to me is a miracle. I got married four years ago. I have a little daughter, a loving wife and a good job. Every day I pray that God could save me from the temptation to get hooked either on alcohol or narcotic drugs again.’
Who is at risk of becoming an addict?
Ellada Gorina, a therapist, told us that drug addiction never happens by chance.
“How do you know whether you or your child are at risk of becoming a drug addict?
To begin with, there are risk groups.
First of all attention is paid to biological and physiological factors:
- Drug addiction or alcoholism in parents;
- Mother consuming alcohol, narcotic drugs or smoking during pregnancy;
- Lack of endorphins in human body;
- Acute or chronic diseases and long-term use of painkillers;
- Cranial injuries;
- Mothers experiencing toxaemia during pregnancy;
- Consumption of medicine during pregnancy, use of medical drugs and anaesthesia during labor.
We also pay attention to the psychological factors:
- Irritability, frequent mood changes in a child/adolescent;
- Demonstrativeness, i.e. proclivity for theatrical effects and a desire to ‘show oneself off’;
- Lack of parents’ attention;
- Or, on the contrary, excessive attention and overprotection;
- Unfavourable environment in the family;
- In some cases, even an incomplete family factor or unwillingness of one of the parents to take care of a child matters a lot.
Most often it’s a child’s unmet emotional needs that may turn him/her into an addict, especially if there are certain biological and physiological preconditions. However, few parents think about it seriously.
The environment plays a crucial role: a person’s family and friends and the community’s cultural level. Even the place of residence matters a lot. For example, there are huge drug trafficking networks in big cities, whereas in rural areas it’s alcoholism that holds the lead position”.
How to protect children?
“The best solution is a healthy lifestyle in every sense of the word. Moreover, it shouldn’t be just in words, but in deeds. You shouldn’t just tell how to live, but rather to shift onto that lifestyle yourself.
Look closely at what is going on in your family, and just recall the atmosphere of pregnancy, birth and the first years of life of your child. How healthy was/is it? The primary task is to improve it, rather than to spy on your child and punish him/her.
Keep in mind that the environment in an ordinary school, or even in the most elite private school could turn out to be bad beyond belief. One ‘practicing’ drug addict in a parallel class is quite enough. Don’t forget that for the majority of teens the authority of a peer or any young person is higher than that of their parents. This is true even if you are sure that in your family it’s all different.
Family activities are very helpful: joint work, travelling, adventures and visits to a psychologist. Contact a specialist as soon as you suspect someone of using!