Changing face of addiction

Changing face of addiction
Photo: The Straits Times

More people here are seeking help to kick their addictions.

According to Singapore's largest treatment centre, the National Addictions Management Service (Nams) at the Institute of Mental Health, 1,700 new patients sought help for their addictions last year. This is a 37 per cent jump from the 1,245 new cases seen in 2010 when Nams was set up.

Rather than a cause for alarm, the figures are a good sign that symptoms of addiction are being picked up in the community and addicts are coming forward to get help.

One of the biggest hurdles in treating addiction is the lack of public acceptance that an addiction is a chronic mental health disorder.

Some take a moralising attitude towards people who have addictions and assume, wrongly, that these can be overcome if the person has enough willpower.

The rise in addicts seeking help is a heartening sign which suggests that our society has cultivated a more compassionate response to addiction. This encourages its victims to step out and admit that they are not coping well.

One notable trend is that gambling addiction has grown dramatically compared with other forms of addiction.

The number of new gambling addicts that surfaced last year doubled to 526 from 259 in 2010. In contrast, new drug cases rose by only 27 per cent and new alcohol addicts by 18 per cent for during same period.

Singapore's two casinos opened in 2010. Five years on, it would appear that the novelty has worn off, going by a fall in local visitorship numbers and the drop in entry levy collected.

But the country will continue to shoulder the social costs of the casinos. Besides a jump in the number of gambling addicts seeking help, more gambling addicts are starting young, a recent survey by the authorities has found.

These signs must be discussed when the issue of having a third casino comes up for debate, weighed against the economic benefits it may bring.

This article was first published on Nov 23, 2015.
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