'My mother chased me with a chopper while high on drugs,' comedian Irene Ang shares at event to raise awareness about addictions

Irene Ang shared how she grew up with parents who were addicts at a panel discussion, on March 10, 2018.
Irene Ang shared how she grew up with parents who were addicts at a panel discussion, on March 10, 2018.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - Drug and gambling addiction wrecked local entertainer Irene Ang's family so profoundly that it took more than three decades for wounds to heal.

"My brother didn't talk to my mother for some 20 years and things only changed for the better between them in the last few years," said Ms Ang, who turns 50 this year.

She spoke about how she grew up with parents who were addicts at an event organised by the National Addictions Management Service and North East Community Development Council at Our Tampines Hub on Saturday (March 10).

Ms Ang, who is chief executive of talent agency Fly Entertainment, was speaking at a panel discussion, alongside local artiste Rafaat Hamzah and the service's senior counsellor William Teo, who both used to take drugs.

Ms Ang said her mother was hooked on drugs while her father gambled voraciously.

She was still a child when her mother chased her around the block with a chopper while high on drugs, she recalled.

Once, Ms Ang had a fever and her mother told her to help herself to the Panadol medicine in the fridge. The litte girl accidentally took her mother's drugs instead and was promptly slapped by her furious mother, who assumed that her daughter was stealing her drugs.

"My father was also such a gambler that during one of the games, he even ganged up with a relative to cheat my money," said Ms Ang.

At the National Addictions Management Service, which is run by the Institute of Mental Health, the top three addictions patients seek help for are drugs, alcohol and gambling.

A lot more people are seeking help for addictions these days.

The service had 1,738 new patients in the last financial year ending in March last year, up by 72 per cent from 1,008 when it first started offering its services in 2008.

"The increase is encouraging as it is indicative that there are more who are willing to seek help. We also attribute this to the expansion of public outreach initiatives," said Associate Professor Lee Cheng, the service's programme director.

Over the years, it has introduced webchat and phone counselling, as well as addiction management services at some polyclinics and community agencies.

Mr Teo, 64, is the first addict turned staff at the National Addictions Management Service.

He grew up in the notorious Kolam Ayer area where teenagers congregated and experimented with drugs such as marijuana, amphetamines, opium and heroin.

After going in and out of prison four times for taking drugs, Mr Teo was determined to make good even if he had only Primary 6 qualifications then. He eventually obtained a master's in counselling and has been helping others with addiction issues for nearly 20 years.

"Even today when I wear T-shirt and shorts and neighbours see my tattoos, they quickly get out of the lift," said Mr Teo.

Ms Ang had similar experiences, with neighbours making snide comments to their children about her and her parents in the lift.

"It is hard enough for people to kick their addiction, without having to deal with all these labels and stigma," said Ms Ang. "I hope people give them a second chance by hiring them. Offering them just a word of encouragement will also go a long way."