More people seeking help to break chains of addiction

More people seeking help to break chains of addiction

SINGAPORE - More people here are seeking help to kick their addictions, which include drugs, alcohol and gambling, according to Singapore's largest treatment centre.

Last year, the National Addiction Management Service (Nams) at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) treated 1,556 new patients - a 25 per cent increase over the 1,245 in 2010. A decade ago, the figure was just 200.

The growth is being fuelled by "increased awareness of addictions as a treatable condition, and better knowledge of the avenues of help", IMH's vice-chairman of Nams' medical board, Dr Christopher Cheok, told The Straits Times.

While drug addicts last year formed the largest group of new cases at Nams, at 38 per cent, the sharpest rise was in the number of gamblers seeking help. Since 2010, it jumped by about 60 per cent to hit 418 cases last year.

In comparison, the number of drug and alcohol addicts rose by about 13 per cent each over the same time.

This has seen gambling addiction catch up with alcohol addiction as the second-most-common problem, at 27 per cent each. Other patients seek treatment for other issues such as cyber and sex addiction.

Meanwhile, youth below 30 are emerging as the driving force behind rising drug-addiction figures, causing so much concern that the Government last month formed a multi-agency task force to tackle the problem. Over the past decade, the total number of drug abusers arrested has risen by an average of 2 per cent each year, but the figure for those aged below 20 is 7 per cent. For those between 20 and 29, it is an even higher 11 per cent.

Younger people tend to have a more liberal attitude towards drugs. Those aged 17 to 21 are more likely to think that "it's all right to try drugs for a new experience", a National Council Against Drug Abuse survey conducted last year showed.

Young drug abusers are also using "softer" drugs such as cannabis and methamphetamine, seeing them as less harmful and addictive than traditional drugs such as heroin. This is exacerbated by the legalisation of cannabis in other countries.

National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Straughan felt the "hip" factor of drug use has contributed to less stigma being associated with it.

"Because there is so much information on social media about celebrities experimenting with drugs, it is often misperceived as simply a 'lifestyle' choice. So taking drugs is somewhat normalised and the social stigma is buried under all the hype."

Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association counsellor Ambiga K.S. said young drug abusers tend to be those who are lonely, bored or have low self-esteem.

She recalled a case she handled - a 27 year-old man arrested two years ago, who started using heroin simply because he wanted to mould himself after the late American singer Kurt Cobain, who abused heroin. "He didn't find a role model in his family so Kurt Cobain became his role model and drugs became a part of it. And also to enjoy the sensation in the music. So he started following the trend of Kurt Cobain and went into drugs."

Preventing young people from picking up drugs, she said, begins with parenting at home. "Once (youth) have proper education (on drugs) and once they have good parenting, it will be difficult for children to find identity with drugs or any negative influence. Once they get addicted it's very hard to pick them up. Prevention is better than cure."

Nams treated a total of 2,562 patients, including repeat ones, last year, up from 2,090 in 2010.

"As awareness increases further, we hope that more of those in need of help will come forward," said Dr Cheok.

This article was first published on Dec 25, 2014.
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