After he agreed to his wife’s request for divorce, Amir Ali was, more than anything else, worried about the sarcastic remarks his father would undoubtedly make. He had predicted that such a day would come and that Ami Ali’s marriage would end in divorce. Amir Ali decided to severe ties with his family so he could shield himself from his father’s scolding. Being alone, however, did not give him serenity. His friends turned his home into a safe hangout where they could gather and smoke a white magical substance.
The “magic” was less sleep and a lot more energy - to the point where Amir Ali became hooked on that lifestyle. “It was a strange sensation,” he remembers, looking back on those days with anxiety. “Any time I used methamphetamine, everything seemed feasible and every wish achievable. I did not feel sleepy or tired - which prevented me from working after my divorce.”
Amir Ali was employed at a large chain store in Tehran, but he could not concentrate or focus his attention on his work after the divorce. His therapist at the drug rehabilitation center Congress 60 says that Amir Ali’s addiction was a result of the depression he suffered after the divorce. Had he come to the center for counseling at an earlier stage, he adds, he would have been cured much sooner.
The Vicious Cycle
“Some people resort to alcohol, sedatives or even [illegal] drugs to escape from symptoms of depression,” says one psychiatrist in an interview with IranWire. “We call this ‘self-treatment’. These substances can ease the effects of sadness, guilt or low self-esteem, although temporarily. Sometimes they improve sleep disorders caused by depression, or even restore a measure of self-confidence, but when the effects wear off, the symptoms of depression returns. This vicious cycle can result in continued drug abuse and addiction.”
Khatereh also began to use methamphetamine after her divorce and the start of a new relationship. “When I got divorced, I was very lonely,” she says. “I came to know a young man who, unlike my husband, saw my strong points and did not put me down. I fell in love with him. I did not want to return to my father’s house in the provinces. We decided to live together. My divorce settlement was $40,000, which my husband paid me in cash. He was well-off and that is why he always put me down.”
Khatereh gave the full amount to her boyfriend, whom she trusted, to set up a business. This was the start of her addiction. “He made me an addict,” she recalls. “At the beginning, I was very sad and cried for no reason at all. I missed my family and thought about lost hopes and opportunities. Soheil, my boyfriend, told me that this white powder would perform miracles. When I started, it did, and I was feeling so well. Later, little by little, my stomach began to ache and my teeth began to decay. I got tired of that strange sensation, but what was the use? I had given away everything away to Soheil for that white powder. It was a scheme to get $40,000. I felt worse and worse, to the point that I even sold my body for one ounce of the powder.”
Mariam Zanjani, a counselor who met Khatereh at a rehabilitation center a year ago, and who said she’d had a productive year working with her, says that, “like many other people who go through a divorce, Khatereh was suffering from depression”. She added, “Some people try to cope by isolating themselves, while others work harder or enter a new relationship. Maybe only returning to their families can help them. Such people become fragile and, in many cases, resort to sedatives or, like Khatereh, try addictive drugs. Perhaps if Khatereh had not experienced post-divorce depression, she would not have become so fragile in a new relationship.”
Khatereh’s failed second relationship, according to the therapist, pushed her to prostitution to pay for her drug habit. “The second failure, just when she was being beaten down by her drug habit, made her depression worse.”
Depression, of course, is not exclusive to people who have experienced divorce.
Depression manifests itself through feelings of sadness, low self-esteem and apathy towards daily activities and the everyday enjoyment of life, symptoms that some experts refer to as “mental flu”. The condition can be a combination of various psychological symptoms, from slight boredom to choosing silence to avoiding daily activities. In many cases, the stress of immigrating, being pregnant, going through a divorce, failing in school or work, as well as a number of other life events, can lead to depression.
“Most people who have used methamphetamine when they are depressed,” say Zanjani, “confess that they reached a high level of self-confidence after using it. Shy people who have never talked much in a small gathering suddenly find the courage to make a speech in front of a large crowd. People who feel humiliated dare to speak their minds. Some who have had sleep disorders, who suffer from drowsiness and chronic fatigue - signs of depression - find joy in sleeping less and working more.”
“A normal person does not get addicted after drinking alcohol or taking sedatives,” says a professor at the Tehran University of Medical Sciences and Health Services, “but I can say with a high degree of certainty that a depressed patient is going to be addicted if he or she drinks alcohol or takes sedatives without a doctor’s prescription.”
In Iran, three million people suffer from drug addiction, according to a report by the Iranian agency responsible for fighting drug problems. But another source, an Iranian MP, puts the number at 4.5 million. A recent study conducted by the University of Queensland in Australia concludes that Iranians and Afghans are among the most depressed people in the world.