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Monday, December 27, 2010

Alcoholism booms in 'dry' Pakistan

The Pakistani banker told his story nervously, kneading his hands as he spoke. His wife had deserted him, his family was furious, and his career had stalled. "My problem is whisky," he said, shaking his head with regret.

The 32-year-old professional was sitting in an addiction clinic, hidden down a quiet street in the capital, Islamabad. He had relapsed from the expensive treatment programme twice already; now he had been dry for more than three months. "This time it's for good," he said, with just a glimmer of self-doubt.

Pakistan has been dry for much longer – since 1977 – and drinkers risk severe punishment: 80 lashes of the whip under strict Islamic laws. But the law is ignored, alcohol is widely available and, for those who go too far, addiction clinics offering help are quietly flourishing.

"There's plenty of business," said Dr Sadaqat Ali, a leading addiction counsellor whose chain of clinics treated 500 alcoholics this year. Dr Ali estimates that 10 million Pakistanis drink alcohol, 1 million of whom have a problem. "With our culture of hospitality, it's hard to say 'no'," he said.  > > > >  Read More