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Iran Opens First State-Run Rehab For Alcoholism

Despite doling out the death penalty for just drinking alcohol, Iran has now made combating alcoholism a top priority.

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By John Lavitt

08/22/14

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In a surprising move, the Islamic Republic of Iran has opened the first state-run rehab specifically designed to treat alcoholism.

The announcement of the opening was made by the Iranian Student’s News Agency at the end of July, despite the fact that alcohol has been banned since the Islamic revolution in 1979 and drinking it is punishable by death.

The director-general of the Health Ministry's Mental Health Department, Abbas Ali Nasehi, said the problem of alcohol abuse is now a priority for the ministry. According to the report by ISNA, the new center was inaugurated at Tehran University's Medical School. Dr. Mohammad Reza Sargolzaiee said that the decision to open a center for alcohol treatment was made "following an increase in alcohol use among Iranians."

Although this is the first state-run alcohol rehab, it is not the first alcohol rehab to open in the country. In September 2013, a permit was issued for the establishment of Iran's first private alcohol rehabilitation center in Tehran. Still, in the private sector, there are very few resources available for alcoholics in need. Unlike Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous has a small presence inside Iran.

Alireza, an anonymous Iranian member of Alcoholics Anonymous, described the challenge when a serious alcoholic needs to detox. “If you are lucky and are friends with a caring doctor, he can come to your home and attend to you," Alireza said. "Otherwise you have to go through the whole three weeks by yourself and without any help. There are many camps and clinics for drug detox, but there are none for quitting alcohol.”

Drinking alcohol is illegal for Muslims under Iran's strict Islamic teachings. In 2012, two unidentified repeat offenders were sentenced to death for consuming alcohol. Hassan Shariati, the judiciary chief of northeastern Khorasan-e Razavi Province, explained at the time, "We will not show mercy in alcoholic beverage offenses and we will sentence the offenders to the harshest letter of the law.” Despite such threats, there remains open violation of the no-drinking law across the country.

In February 2013, Iran's national police chief Esmaeil Ahmadi-Moqaddam claimed there were about 200,000 people in Iran dependent on alcohol. This number, however, was considered to be more of an estimated guess than a reliable fact.

Dr. Reza Afshari, president of the Asia Pacific Association of Medical Toxicology, executed a yearlong study that ended in March of 2013. Afshari’s final report estimated that more than one million Iranians are regular drinkers that defy the alcohol ban. A surprising fact revealed in the study was that 30% of the drinkers in Iran are women.

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