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New approach helps addicts kick habit
By Wang Zhenghua (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-06-26 00:40

Zhao Zeng was once a drug addict.

But now the 32-year-old man looks hale and hearty, not at all like he did when he was on narcotics.

With his hair set with gel, which makes him look pretty young and energetic, Zhao shocks many when he tells them that he was once on drugs for ten years.

The change took place last October when an emaciated Zhao entered a Beijing voluntary addiction treatment centre and volunteered to try a new therapy called "therapy community."

The therapy community, operated by the Ankang Hospital on the capital's outskirts, has so far helped 110 addicts, including Zhao, to shake off their addiction.

"At that time we had 28 drug addicts in the voluntary drug rehabilitation centre, which is called the Sunflower Community," said Lu Qiulin, the hospital president.

The community focuses on helping drug users overcome their psychological dependence on drugs.

A drug addicts receives medical treatment to help him to quit using drugs at the Shanghai Drug Rehabilitation Centre June 25, 2004. [Reuters]

But beyond the common treatments used by most detox centres, the community has developed many unique methods of its own.

According to Doctor Wang Zhiqiang, they make effective use of peer education. He believes it is more effective for people with the same psychological problems to encourage each other to break the habit.

"Drug users here live as family members in the community. They live in the community on an equal footing. They encourage each other to achieve the same goal -- getting rid of their addiction," Wang said.

But when two or more members of the group have disagreements, a "vent meeting" must be held.

During these meetings, they can express their feelings freely, or they can point out others' mistakes, while the others have the right to disagree, said Wang.

"It's somewhat like a bickering match, and it often lasts as long as two hours," Wang said.

But they are not allowed to use offensive words nor are they permitted to leave their chairs, added Wang.

"We believe that these meetings play an important role in their daily life, for from time to time drug addicts need to vent their anger or stress," the doctor said.

In addition, drugs, violence, theft and sexual intimacy are absolutely forbidden in the community, he said.

A disciplined life

On top of all group members having the same status, their daily life is fully scheduled.

According to Zhang Yu, who has been in the community for four months, she gets up at 7:00 am every morning.

"Then I must begin my busy daily schedule," said the woman in her 30s.

Drug addicts sit in their room before starting morning exercises at the Shanghai Drug Rehabilitation Center June 25, 2004. [Reuters]

Apart from attending lectures and meetings and taking part in sports and other forms of entertainment, each resident is asked to do a daily job.

Cui Xinhua, deputy director with the hospital told China Daily that the 28 residents are divided into four groups and each is responsible for one job such as cooking, cleaning and drafting notices.

"Every newcomer is a junior family member," said Cui, "and if their behaviour is appropriate, they may eventually be promoted to senior residents."

Only senior residents can receive phone calls from outside and visits from their friends, and they are even allowed to take part in the management work of the hospital.

"We conduct daily assessments to let all residents hear who is good enough to shoulder more responsibility," Cui said.

"For instance, Zhao is now a senior resident," said Cui, "because he can not only take care of himself, but also help resolve the problems of others.

The community is much more comfortable than the traditional compulsory detoxification centres, although some of the members still miss their families outside the home.

"In another month, I will be discharged from hospital," said Zhang, who is apparently looking forward to going back home.

She said the first thing she will do is have a good sleep and that she will never take drugs again.

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