The last thing the rehabilitation centre patient wanted to hear from his father was advice about kicking his alcoholism habit.
He had grown to detest his father, whom he always blamed for introducing him and his brother to alcohol. Even as he went through a programme at a rehab, he had a bone to pick with his father.
“During treatment, he didn’t feel like the dad had the authority to really speak too much about treatment and such matters,” recalled Bigvai Omino, an addiction counsellor based in Nairobi, in an interview with Parenting last week. “He blamed his habit on the dad.”
That is one of the many instances where people have become drug addicts due to the mistakes of their parents. As they make merry at home or leisurely consume addictive substances in their houses, parents put drugs within reach of their children, and the result is an addict groomed in the family set-up.
“About 14 to 30 percent (of our patients) mention that they started it at home,” added Mr Omimo, the programme officer at the Asumbi Treatment Centre, a Karen-based branch of a rehab run by the Catholic Diocese of Homa Bay.
According to Prof John Muteti, the acting CEO of the National Authority for the Campaign against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (Nacada), one of the side effects of the lockdowns caused by the Covid-19 pandemic was increased drug consumption at home.
“Covid 19 exacerbated the introduction of alcohol and other drugs in homes after entertainment joints were shut down. People turned their houses and homes into bars, and this created an environment where children would easily access the drugs and alcoholic drinks,” Prof Muteti told Parenting recently. “The effect of this is still being felt to date.”
Various studies have analysed the fate of children whose parents are drug-dependent. One, done in the US and published in 2017, said that even when addiction doesn’t happen, other problems like mistreatment are bound to arise. It was titled Children Living with Parents Who Have a Substance Use Disorder.
Another one released in 2000 said that one in five drug abusers in some treatment programmes in the US received their first taste of addictive substances from their parents.
And in 2016, another study by Harvard University showed that children whose parents or caregivers abused alcohol – or used, produced or distributed drugs – faced significantly higher risks of medical and behavioural problems, including substance abuse.
Mr Omino said there are many ways parents contribute to children becoming drug addicts. One of them, he said, is the scenario where there is a broken family that operates in such a way that you cannot always account for the children.
“It can happen that the mother and the father are on different sides. That creates a gap, and sometimes the kids know that if one is out, sometimes it’s very difficult for them to be accounted for,” he said.
He went on: “Another aspect is the culture of the family. In some setups, the family makes the use of alcohol the norm. This is where the kids learn to start tasting and at some age, like around 20 or 21, when they are able to find money, they go for their own drinks and even experiment further with different aspects of drugs, not just the initial ones that they were introduced to, which is usually alcohol.”
The Nacada boss said government employees are the highest consumers of alcohol — one of the addictive drugs that parents often consume.
“The national average for alcohol (consumption) is now at 11.8 percent. But in the public sector, we are talking of 24 percent. More people in the public sector are taking alcohol, and that has implications for the workforce and performance. We suspect that because these people have disposable income, they can afford that,” said Prof Muteti.
Nacada, under the leadership of Prof Muteti who has been its director for research and strategic planning for the last seven years, is currently conducting a study on the status of drug abuse in Kenyan institutions of higher learning, which is likely to expose the aspect of initiation to drugs at an early age.
“We realised a problem like smoking starts in primary (school) then increases in secondary schools. We want to see if such trends increase in institutes of higher learning,” Prof Muteti said.
One common dilemma facing parents is whether to occasionally carry a drink home, and whether to let their children have a sip to douse their curiosity.
Mr Omino is of the opinion that children should never be allowed to taste alcohol or any addictive substance at all.
“If there is a possibility of not tasting at all, then it would be the best. This is because you don’t know that you are going to be an addict until you indulge, and then sometimes it’s too late to reverse that. They say that addiction is a relapsing disease. So, even as you are doing treatment, people relapse. So, the best thing is not tasting at all,” he said.
There is also the temptation to have alcoholic drinks in the home fridge alongside other supplies. Mr Omino, who has been in the addiction counselling space for the last 10 years, feels that parents – if they must have a drink at home – should have their alcohol in different quarters altogether.
Because of the scientifically established fact that some addictive behaviours are inherited, Mr Omino urges parents to talk to their children about drugs and their effects.
“They should educate kids as early as possible and explain to them how vulnerable they are and how risky the effects can be if they do drugs. They should also nurture other activities that are relaxing; social activities that don’t involve alcohol like sports and outdoor exploration,” he says.
His employer, the Asumbi Treatment Centre, has been in operation since 1978. It is headquartered in Homa Bay with branches in Karen and Runda. Countrywide, according to Prof Muteti, there are four government-owned rehabs and about 150 privately-owned ones.
At the Karen centre, they see about 60 patients a year.
“It’s a long walk. Even after treatment, we provide after-care services for patients and integrate them into the community through AA (Alcoholic Anonymous) meetings. Our sources of patients are usually family members, from former patients that we’ve treated, from doctors and recently from employers. And a few of them, like 10 percent, have come by themselves,” said Mr Omino.
Posts by people who confess to having been introduced to drugs by their parents often point to dysfunctional families.
One post on an online discussion forum reads: “Whilst talking about drugs with a young man, he told me that when he was a teen he regularly ‘did drugs’ with his parents. It was one (hell of) a dysfunctional family, I surmise, but it had me wondering: could it be that the war on drug is almost impossible to win because a lot of adults are a part of the problem?”
Mr Omino concurs that the initiation of children into drug use at the family level is more likely to be a problem in broken families.
“Kids that are exposed to domestic violence among their parents sometimes tend to get to drugs or to other activities that endanger their lives – usually drugs – as a way of coping, especially when they’re also trying to suppress (stress) and behave like it’s fine at home and all things are good. We have noticed that it contributes to the use of drugs as a coping mechanism,” he explained.
Prof Muteti also gave an example of a woman in Mombasa whose children were at risk because of her addiction. He said he came across her when visiting drug dens in the coastal city.
“She has three children, with no home, and is injecting herself with drugs. A very traumatising scene. She had been thrown out by her husband and her husband’s family. She told us that when she started using drugs, she started with her husband. The husband went to rehab, stopped, and was taken by his family. The family tagged her as a bad influence and kicked her out. Her siblings also kicked her out, saying she was stealing from them to sustain her addiction. There is a lot of stigma. The stigmatisation really touched me, and I thought something must be done about it. Let us remove the stigma because addiction is a disease,” said the Nacada boss.
Prof Muteti also said they have a solution for addiction in the family.
“We have a programme called Positive Parenting where we sensitise families on how to stay away from alcohol and substance abuse in the home. The programme also aims at ensuring that parents act as role models to their children so as not to initiate them into alcohol and drug use early,” he said.
For anyone consumed by addiction, be they a parent or a child, Mr Omino assured that there is hope.
“They should not lose hope. Recovery is very possible, and they should reach out. They still have chances of getting back on their feet through family support,” he said.