Drug use among the young: Parents play vital role, says counsellor

When she moved to a different part of town with her family at age 14, Emma (not her real name) found herself bullied at school because of her elder sister's disabilities.

Unable to tell her parents the full story, she turned to cannabis.

"She told me that the first time she smoked, she felt good. She didn't have to worry about a thing - about protecting her sister, or about how she was feeling," said counsellor Gudrun Agustsdottir, 57.

The teen started smoking more, to the point where she did it daily. It took a toll on her relationship, and she broke up. Her parents, later learning of her drug use, sought help from non-governmental organisation The Parent House, when Emma was 16.

"She'd been smoking for one year, every day, and they didn't know. They worked a lot, and she lied to them. They just trusted her," said Ms Agustsdottir, a drug and alcohol counsellor with The Parent House.

It took six months for her to help Emma identify her "triggers", work through her heartache, and learn to stop being with friends who smoked the drug.

 
 
 
 

As with most of her clients, it was the girl's parents who first approached her. It is important to work with parents, she said, to ensure that teens do not return home to the same environment that brought about the drug use.

Besides traumatic events, like in Emma's case, teens may turn to drugs due to issues like depression or learning disabilities, Ms Agustsdottir said.

While legalisation abroad contributes to liberal attitudes towards cannabis - the most common drug her clients turn to - online buying on social media has made it easy.

A Facebook page seen by The Straits Times had sellers openly advertising drugs such as ecstasy and cannabis to a group of over 1,200 members.

But Ms Agustsdottir warns of addiction and the dangers of starting young. The Parent House conducted 750 counselling sessions last year. While she does not have comparative figures from the years before, she said of her 36 years' experience: "I think parents are more observant now, and they are quicker to come and seek help."

While this may mean seeing more cases of youth drug abuse, she said it could be a positive sign: "The sooner you come, the easier it is for us to tackle the issues."

Seow Bei Yi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2017, with the headline 'Parents play vital role, says counsellor'. Print Edition | Subscribe