x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Rehabilitation centre to tackle addiction in youth

The unit will cater for those aged between 16 and 19, and will set up treatment programmes and conduct research on the prevalence of the problem.

The National Rehabilitation Centre plans to open a unit this year to treat what it says is a growing number of adolescents struggling with addiction.

Authorities at the centre said the unit would initially accept Emiratis only but they hoped it could serve the wider community within the next few years.

"The need for such a facility has arisen through evidence of possible cases and enquiries for services for this age group," said Dr Shamil Wanigaratne, a consultant clinical psychologist at the Abu Dhabi centre.

The unit will cater for those aged between 16 and 19, and will set up treatment programmes and conduct research on the prevalence of the problem.

"This is a transitional age and their way of thinking needs to be taken into account. The treatment approach differs," said Dr Wanigaratne.

The centre has 70 beds and hopes to add another 250 soon.

He said a significant number of current patients are as young as 16, but would not give an exact number.

Dr Wanigaratne said most of patients could be classified as "problematic" users and were not necessarily dependent on drugs.

"These young people are referred to us by parents or other interested parties that ring up and say that a certain child needs help," he said. "Others get into trouble with the authorities and are referred to us in that way."

Dr Wanigaratne said the euphoria young people felt in taking risks, the absence of recreational activities in their daily schedule and trouble in the family were reasons for teenage alcohol and drug use.

"Also, because it is not condoned in some cultures to drink - like the Emirati culture - some kids in this age group feel the need to rebel and do it," he said.

The rehabilitation centre has started a school-based prevention programme in Abu Dhabi and is also conducting a survey to establish the extent of the problem.

George H, a member of the UAE chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous, said alcohol abuse must be seen as a disease that needs treatment and not as a criminal offence.

"It's illegal and you can be deported is the message, but what should be done is to set up facilities to treat such individuals," George said.

"Ignoring the problem just makes matters worse, especially with young people who may never speak up because it is dealt with harshly."

aahmed@thenational.ae