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24 Aug, 2010 03:46

Religious rehab for drug addicts - helping hand or hindrance?

Religious rehab centers are on the rise in Russia, offering non-traditional aid to drug addicts in the country. But critics argue such centers are no more than sects, and that addicts trade one crutch for another there.

Cutting through the vice grip of drug and alcohol addiction took Mikhail Suslov nearly a decade. The 29-year-old was on a collision course with crime and death. Diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver and hepatitis B and C, Mikhail now says God saved and changed his life.

“When I came here last year, for the first time in eight years I realized that grass was green, birds were singing and everything was beautiful. I used to take drugs and pills and alcohol at the same time. I was literally a vegetable with no understanding of what was around me,” Mikhail said.

He is at a rehab center run by a church. Days include group chores meant to teach responsibility and Bible and prayer sessions.

“Prayer is a fellowship, and we are likely to become like those we communicate with. If someone talks to fishermen he is likely to become one too. When someone talks to God, and that’s what a prayer is, he becomes a believer, and his life changes,” explained the director of the rehab center, Vladimir Sidorov.

Not on the schedule here is time with a trained medical professional. The belief is that the spirit is what needs mending, and that this only comes through God.

Drug use is on the rise in Russia. The official numbers show there are 600,000 addicts in the country. The federal agency charged with combating this problem says there are millions more.

But there is also an increase in the number of religious rehab centers that are offering non-traditional treatment. Some are referring to them as little more than recruiting centers for religious sects.

The Pentecostal community in Russia is small, but runs several of the nation’s growing number of religious rehabs. Critics insist that those who seek treatment through these are simply trading one crutch for another.

“We are losing people now not because of drugs, but because of destructive cults,” said Nickolay Koklyugin, a psychologist at the Federal Drug Control Agency. “Chemical addiction to drugs or alcohol is substituted by group psychological addiction instead. This kind of addiction is stronger and much more serious.”

Some experts claim recovering addicts become unable to function outside of the church and sequester themselves later, electing to spread the message to others in new centers.

As for Mikhail, he doesn’t believe he is a part of a cult.

“On the contrary, I realized I had been brainwashed all my previous life. People around me had a consumer attitude. But here, I have pure feelings and a new vision,” he said.

And the desire to run a clinic of his own someday.