ABU DHABI // Children as young as 10 are experimenting with drugs and unsuspecting parents are failing to spot the tell-tale signs, experts said.
Changes in a child’s behavioural and sleeping patterns, a decline in educational performance or a change in a peer group may indicate a sign of substance abuse, said Dr Ali Hassan Al Marzooqi, public health director and research director at the National Rehabilitation Centre (NRC).
“Watch out for your children,” he urged parents. “This is very important. We have noticed there is a trend in substance abuse in children. We have seen them as young as 12 or 13.”
But Dr Tarek Abdel Gawad, the treatment and rehabilitation director at NRC, said the problem of substance abuse was likely to extend to children who were even younger.
“Unfortunately, we have information coming in from clients and patients and their families that they have kids that are starting to abuse or misuse drugs,” he said. “The youngest age I heard was 10.”
Dr Al Marzooqi said more and more children were experimenting with alcohol and drugs – and that several factors were to blame
“Family dynamics, for one,” he said. “Also social issues, peer pressure and then the curiosity of teenagers to want to try something new.
“What we have noticed is the main cause is family issues – a lack of proper parenting, skill and supervision and weak family ties are primary reasons.”
Dr Marzooqi, speaking on the sidelines of the Commonly Co-occuring Disorders conference, hosted by the NRC at Abu Dhabi’s Hilton Capital Grand yesterday, said children started off dabbling with “softer” substances before graduating to more addictive and harmful drugs.
“Usually they start off with prescribed drugs or they use glues [to sniff]. Then they move up.”
Unfortunately, he said, tobacco use among teenagers often led young smokers to experiment with other substances.
“We consider smoking to be the gateway of drug addictions,” he said.
In addition to the adults it deals with, the centre, which was launched in 2002, treats mostly male Emirati minors between the ages of 12 and 18.
Dr Ahmed Elkashef, the director of research at NRC, described the rising number of children and young adults experimenting with substances as alarming.
“It is very worrying,” he said. All parents have to keep their eyes open.”
The conference addressed the link between substance abuse and mental illness.
Dr Elkashef said many patients who suffered with a mental illness were likely to go on to abuse or misuse alcohol or drugs. And, vice versa, he said those who abused drugs or drink were also more likely to develop a mental illness such as anxiety, depression and phobias, or manic depression, such as bipolar disorders.
“There is a high association with mental illness and drug abuse,” he said.
Early intervention and education progress were integral, said Dr Elkashef, especially when it came to children and adolescents, who are in a unique stage in neurodevelopment.
“This is because their brains are still developing at this age,” he said. “If these issues are tackled early on then we will see less severe symptoms and better outcome for patients from all aspects – heath, education, social and family.”
About 660 Emiratis were treated in the NRC’s outpatient unit last year for substance-abuse problems. Since 2002, when the NRC launched, about 2,400 UAE nationals have been patients at the centre.
Source: uae news