A sixteen year old young female, with a weird look on her face, was brought in to see me by her very distraught mother and highly supportive aunt. The look on the young lady’s face explained the mother’s distress, without me having to pose the question for their visit. The child wore a vacant but piercing, angry and fixed look. Her eyes were like two sharp daggers about to stab its victim.
I have seen this type of patient several times before to warn me to tread cautiously and not to provoke the young lady and risk being assaulted by her. The child has been using cannabis for over a year and in the last few weeks, she became extremely aggressive, terrorising her elderly wheel chair-bound Granny for money. She was hearing voices and made serious threats of wanting to kill every one in the home.
The mother, though looking outwardly calm, was absolutely terrified of her daughter but at the same time wanted to save her child. I had to go about the consultation with great caution, because she seemed ready to pounce at me at any moment. The young lady had developed psychosis, which was precipitated by her use of cannabis. With very stoic permission, the young lady allowed me to give her a tranquilizing injection. I went about giving her the injection with guarded apprehension.
The mom was given a letter to take her to the hospital, urgently. In the hospital, she had to be held down by three strapping security guards, in order to be given another injection to sedate her. It was the first night that the family rested in peace, without fearing that they were all going to be harmed or killed. I mentioned this case for two reasons: firstly to highlight the fact that cannabis is not a safe drug even though it has been decriminalised and secondly, to illustrate the pain and hardships families have to endure once their children are on drugs.
The question often asked by parents is, “is there a medication to stop the addiction ?” They feel very disappointed when they are told that there are no drugs or quick fixes to overcome addiction. Once a children or adults start becoming addicted to substances, they take on a new identity. They lose their minds, lose all respect for themselves and their families and often up on the streets, in jails and in psychiatric institutions. Some even become prostitutes or join gangs to support their addiction.
For parents to raise a child on drugs must be one of the greatest challenges and nightmares of their lives. Some parents end up with severe depression or die from strokes and heart attacks in the process. What is the answer? Parents should attend support groups to equip themselves about addiction and how to deal with it and they must stop blaming themselves, with guilt, for their children’s addiction. Addiction respects no class or age. Any one can be afflicted by it.
Coming from a good home does not proffer immunity from addiction. Children from wealthy and religious backgrounds are equally at risk as children on the streets to become addicted to drugs.
Parents must always be vigilant about their children’s children’s change in behaviour or drop in their school performance and act on it before it is too late. Parents, who are not in denial of their children’s addiction and attend support groups, can fortify themselves from the devastating effects and, often, life long journey of living with an addict in their lives.
I have written a book, “4 Steps to healing”, based on over thirty years of treating patients with addiction and their families, to help addicts and their families to deal with this problem. The book is available on amazon or directly from me. To deal with addiction, one has to understand it and this book helps the reader to come to terms with the complexity of addiction. If we cannot cure it, we must learn to live with it.
Dr Ellapen Rapiti is a family physician, specialising in child and mental health and addiction counselling.