‘It breaks my heart to see this’

2012-01-21 17:55

Alcoholics who seek treatment are getting younger – and it’s up to parents to stem the tide of child alcoholism.

This according to organisations who work with recovering alcoholics in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.

Erika Nel, Horizon Alcohol and Drug Centre marketing manager in Ekurhuleni, says: “It appears the age at which problem drinking is experienced is dropping. We now see 13-year-olds with drinking problems, which never used to happen.”

Khayelihle Gumbi, a rehabilitated alcoholic and founder of Ukukhanya Rehabilitation Centre in Umzinyathi, KwaZulu-Natal, has observed a similar trend.

“When the programme started in 2008, the youngest patients we had at the centre were older than 23. Two years later we started getting late teens and now we even treat 15-year-olds,” says Gumbi.

A 2010 report shows an increase in the number of people under the age of 20 who seek treatment for alcoholism.

The South African Community Epidemiology Network On Drug Use survey found that 2?249 people in this age group were treated for alcohol addiction at 61 rehab centres in 2009.

In 2010 the number increased by 17% – to 2 642.

A 2008 Medical Research Council survey found that one in eight Grade 8 to 11 pupils had had their first drink before the age of 13.

Bloemfontein teenager Sylvia* had her first drink at this age (see below). She and her friends used to steal booze money from her mother?– a heavy drinker herself – “to be cool”.

Sylvia (16) has since quit school and now drinks rum by the bottle.

Says Gumbi: “It starts with one drink at a family gathering, then binge drinking with friends and ends with drinking every day.”

He says parents should play a more active role in curbing under-age drinking.

“I treat 90 people every month in my facility and usually half of them are teenagers.

“It breaks my heart when I see what under-age drinking has done to our communities and how parents seem to be condoning it.

“We allow our kids to drink during festivities, forgetting that once you start it’s difficult to stop.”

Nel says parents and teachers often don’t realise that what they perceive to be “kids having fun” is in fact a form of alcoholism. While some children gain status among their peers and enjoy the effects, they are too young to realise the harmful nature of drinking.

“Over years, binge drinking slowly turns into daily drinking.”

Nel and Gumbi advise parents to:
» Host alcohol-free parties. Be home when your teenager has a party;

» Talk to your child about alcohol abuse and the dangers thereof; and

» Be on the lookout for symptoms such as mood swings, lack of concentration, constant fatigue and sudden poor performance in school.

Don’ts include:
» Not to regard under-age drinking as “kids having fun”. It’s wrong and illegal; and

» Not to encourage your child to drink because you do.

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