Not You: Addiction, Relapse, and Release in Uganda

Scherz C, Mpanga G, Namirembe S. Not You: Addiction, Relapse, and Release in Uganda. Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry. 2022;46:101–114.


In recent years, alcohol abuse and dependence have become topics of increasing concern in Uganda, but the chronic relapsing brain disease model of addiction remains only one of many ways of understanding and addressing alcohol- related problems there. For many Ugandan Pentecostals and spirit mediums to be addicted is to be under the control of a being that comes from outside the self. Where these two groups differ, and here they differ strongly, is in regard to the moral valence of these external spirits and what ought to be done about them. This article draws on four years of collaborative ethnographic fieldwork to explore the affordances of these ways of viewing and experiencing addiction and recovery for Ugandans attempting to leave alcohol behind. While the idioms of bondage, dedi- cation, and possession are at times severe, this article argues that they contain within them concepts and practices that point away from models of addiction as a chronic relapsing brain disease and towards the possibility of release.

Last updated on 06/01/2022