Health & Wellbeing
JM | Sep 13, 2022

Health officials charge parents to play more active role in fight against substance abuse

Tamoy Ashman

Tamoy Ashman / Our Today

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Uki Atkinson, research analysis from the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) (Photo: JIS)

The Ministry of Health and Wellness is charging parents to play a more active role in their children’s lives, forming deeper and healthier connections that they believe will act as a deterrent to substance abuse.

Earlier this year, the ministry discovered, through a rapid assessment study and focus group, that substance use has become an emerging issue in schools across the island.

Molly, vaping and edibles were identified as the main substances contributing to the increase.

The ministry has since been having several public health events that they hope will aid in the reduction of substance abuse among students.

During a panel discussion yesterday (September 12) about youth, substance use and mental health, research analyst from the National Council on Drug Abuse (NCDA) Uki Atkinson noted that “the home environment and parenting can be either a risk factor for drug use or a protective factor”.

Atkinson further explained that, based on the NCDA’s findings, children who do not feel connected to their parents were most likely to abuse drugs than those who have a strong connection with their parents.

Abigail Harrison, adolescent medicine specialist at the University Hospital of the West Indies.

Abigail Harrison, adolescent medicine specialist at the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI), also pointed out that one of the biggest challenges children are facing is that they feel their voices are not being heard.

As a result, they enter a state of depression or sadness that may be followed by self medication as a coping mechanism.

Suggestions were made to build parent-child relationships through regular outings as a family, open conversations and quality time.

What to look out for: Signs and symptoms of substance abuse

In addition to forming a healthy relationship, Harrison noted that parental supervision is also needed to aid in the fight against substance abuse.

According to Harrison, oftentimes substance abuse among children goes undetected because parents are not aware of the signs.

She then went on to list a few signs that parents should look out for as these may suggest their child is abusing drugs.

Change in typical behaviour

Harrison noted that a change in a child’s typical behaviour can be a sign of substance abuse.

“If all of a sudden they’re spending far more time in their rooms, they don’t want to come out and watch TV with the family on a Friday night anymore at all,” then this may be a sign of substance abuse or issues with mental health.

Other potential signs include going on rooftops late at night to chill, refraining from participating in their favourite sports, immediately changing clothes after coming home and soaking them or pulling away from friends.

Harrison further charged parents to be ‘smart’.

“You kind of have to have an idea of what things smell like. So, if they come back in the house and they smell like weed then you want to have a conversation. Don’t be afraid to have the conversation and do not be accusatory,” said Harrison.

Parents may also notice money disappearing which is another sign of substance abuse.

Mood changes

A change in a child’s mood is also a potential sign of substance abuse, especially if they were a very jovial person.

Persons who abuse drugs then to be very irritable or miserable shared Harrison.

She noted that if a teenager is “really very irritable then you know their mood may be changing and every little thing sets them off, that may be a sign that something is not right”.

But caution should be taken before a consensus is arrived at that drug abuse is taking place.

Harrison noted that signs of poor mental health and substance abuse may also overlap as the two are connected. As a result, a child may not be using drugs but is suffering from mental health issues.

Nevertheless, keen attention should also be given in these instances because sometimes when children are dealing with anxiety or depression they turn to substances and self medicate.

Gender a main substance abuse determinant

It is the culture of Jamaican males to present themselves as macho or masculine individuals who are void of emotions.

They also tend to keep how they are feeling quiet and struggle in silence.

According to Harrison, this makes males more likely to abuse substances, turning to drugs as a coping mechanism.

She further charged parents to have a listening ear when their children approach them with problems as this can contribute to their child’s overall well being.

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