“My name is Yiannis Boutaris and I have been clean for many years now. For me today, alcohol is like a book I once read.”
When the winemaker and Thessaloniki mayor stood on the dais and spoke publicly about his battle against alcohol addiction, he took the 12th step in his rehabilitation program. By making this admission, he was also helping hundreds of other addicts to take the first step, which is admitting that they have a problem and need help.
Boutaris was one of the founders of Oasis, the first-ever program in the city of Thessaloniki that provides support to people trying to overcome addictions to alcohol, gambling and drugs. He and co-founder Damianos Douitsis designed the program along the same lines and philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous.
After managing to kick his own alcohol addiction 22 years ago, Boutaris continues to take the time every day to speak to dozens of anonymous alcoholics seeking his help. He also continues to be a sponsor of the program and to organize fundraising initiatives such as a reading of poems by C.P. Cavafy that is scheduled to take place at the Thessaloniki Concert Hall at 9 p.m. tonight, Friday. The event will coincide with Oasis’s 11th anniversary and will include an orchestra and choir playing works by the celebrated poet that have been set to music.
“Yiannis Boutaris has encouraged a lot of people to come out of their shell. It was thanks to him and his wife Athena – who worked very hard to to organize it – that the center was established. More than 2,000 people – addicts and relatives of addicts – have received help at Oasis, which, thanks to its volunteers, continues to operate, without waiting lists, in a purely consultative and supportive capacity,” Douitsis told Kathimerini.
The counselor and Oasis co-founder said that the center is even more important today, as financial problems are driving an increasing number of people to alcohol and gambling.
Douitsis explained that the crippling effects of alcohol and gambling addictions do not usually become apparent until after the age of 40 for people who start in their 20s, whereas drug addiction takes its toll much earlier on. He also warned that Internet addiction is also becoming a rising concern in Thessaloniki, especially for young people between the ages of 17 and 25.
“Through Oasis, a lot of small groups have been developed in different parts of the region, especially in rural areas. Our goal is to create a network of centers that will offer real support to former addicts who want to stay clean,” Doutsis added. “Without a support system close by, they can easily relapse.”