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Burden of drug addiction to families

Last week, comedian Eric Omondi shared the challenges his family has gone through to help his brother Joseph Onyango Omondi, a drug addict. Onyango passed on after 19 years of being in and out of rehab. We explore drug addicts toll on their loved ones

Betty Muindi @BettyMuindi

day of joy turned tragic last week when celebrated comedian Eric Omondi’s elder brother died just hours after he was found by his family in downtown Nairobi.

In a video, Eric led viewers to a building on Nyandarua Road where his ailing brother, Joseph Omondi, had been spotted following a tip-off by a taxi driver.

An elated Eric was glad that his brother who was visibly in bad shape, was going to get help through the National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse. Things, however, took a tragic turn 12 hours later and Joseph succumbed ending his 19-year struggle with addiction.

Eric broke the news with a mugshot of his brother’s ravaged face revealing the horrific physical toll of longterm abuse. “This is not the last image I would have wanted to post of my brother, but this is definitely the image I want every young person in this country to see!

Joseph Onyango Omondi passed on this morning around 3am, barely 12 hours after I found him in downtown River Road. He was addicted to cocaine and other substances and was in and out of rehab for the past 19 years…” Eric wrote.

What is more heart-wrenching is the agony that Eric’s family had to go through trying to rescue their loved one. “Joseph has struggled with drug addiction since high school,” said Eric, who was accompanied by their third and last born Irene and Fred Omondi, also a comedian.

Joseph Omondi who passed on last week. Photo/COURTESY

“We have tried our best as a family. Because of his addiction, he has a tendency to run away from us to avoid rehabilitation,” he added.

Just like Eric’s family, when a family member has a drug addiction, they have a disease that has the power to affect and hurt their entire family.

Anthony Kang’ethe, the director of Asumbi Treatment Centre for rehabilitation of drug and substance abusers describes drug addiction as a family disease because of its effect on the economic and emotional well-being on the family of the addicted person.

“Unpredictability of an addicted family member can cause a big drift, anxiety, emotional pain, miscommunication and misunderstanding in a way that damages the family foundation,” he explains.

An addicted person can get unfocused and distracted because their mind is solely on their addiction, thus distabilising their careers, finances, relationships as well as destroys their health.

Family members will be forced to take on greater responsibilities such as taking care of the addicted member’s children, causing even more strain and a variety of negative emotions such as blame and resentment. They will also feel like the person has brought shame to the family.

And as trust falters, they will be on the edge as they strive to stay cautious of different lies their addicted family member may create to explain or deny their behaviour.

And as the addict is stigmatised for his dependency on drugs, so are his family members. “The society usually ends up blaming the family members of the addicted implying that they never did enough to help him or her,” he says adding that all these situations create an altered and damaged family dynamic.

Kang’ethe’s advice to family members of addicted persons is to seek professional help as soon as they see signs of addiction, before it is too late, even if it means forcing them to do it. “Many addicts don’t want to seek treatment when confronted by their families.

To make matters worse, it is difficult to reason with an addict. Addiction is a disease like any other, and this one affects both the mind and the body, it is not that the addict is choosing to stay addicted, the addiction has taken over. Therefore, it is okay to force them into rehab,” he says.

“It might just be the step that is needed to make them see the extensiveness of their problem, and when they get the drug out of their system, the addict can recognise how their addiction is hurting them and others,” he offers.

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