ABU DHABI // The Arab tendency to dispense unsolicited and arbitrary advice in medical matters can risk putting friends and relatives on the path to addiction, psychiatrists warned yesterday. "As Arabs, we act like we know everything and we are always insisting our opinion is fact," said Dr Mohammed Mousa, a consultant psychiatrist at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City (SKMC).
"Patients tend to self-medicate, or try a medicine that their friend or uncle or cousin or neighbour told them was the best ever and cured so-and-so of something or other, and the patient will listen to them instead of the doctor." However some medications, wrongly administered, could become addictive, said Dr Mousa. "Medication that is not taken under a doctor's supervision is very dangerous and a form of abuse," he said.
He added that it was not unusual for him to be prescribing a medication, only to be interrupted by a member of the patient's family recommending something else. "This is especially harmful for patients who have a mental illness that needs specific treatment," he said. Speaking yesterday at the last in a series of lectures on mental health illnesses at SKMC, Dr Mousa said the causes of addiction can be social, economical or physical.
Whatever the reason, it is the family's responsibility to be alert to the possibility, said Dr Rami al Shihabi, senior clinical psychologist at SKMC. "Marital problems like fighting or divorce can affect children and leave them with scars; they have no security at home so they seek security elsewhere, making them vulnerable and the best customers of drug dealers," said Dr al Shihabi. "Parents can be consumed with their problems and their unemployment and their fights and their business travel and have no idea what is happening with their kids," he said. "This is the wrong sort of environment."
Dr Mousa also warned that the summer doldrums can leave teenagers looking for distractions in all the wrong places. "Children have to be kept busy or they will find trouble, whether through breaking into the cabinet where parents hide alcohol at home, or trying out a drug from peer pressure," he said. The most important thing, according to Dr al Shihabi, was for awareness to start at home. "Parents should not treat addiction as a taboo subject and, instead, keep bringing it up with their children, and using repetition to drive the message across," he said. "Otherwise, bad habits can turn into dangerous addictions without us even realising it."