Anti-drug and substance abuse authorities are raising the red flag over the increase in online advertisement and home deliveries of alcohol, warning parents that monitoring and supervision of children in the home environment is not strict enough to discourage consumption of liquor and substance use.
The National Authority for the Campaign Against Drug Abuse (Nacada) has further urged parents to resist the temptation to drink alcohol at home and explore better ways of coping with the idle hours they spend as a result of the restrictions brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.
In response to a story in last week’s edition of the Saturday Nation, CEO Victor Okioma confirmed that the curfew and the partial lockdown announced by the government to help combat the disease have brought in unprecedented increase in alcohol intake at home, exposing children.
“Resist the temptation to drink at home and learn better coping skills. Get to know your children and spouse and hold healthy sober conversations,” Okioma said, warning that the problem could worsen because online purchases have no way of verifying age and teenagers can as well as buy their own.
“The pandemic has changed our everyday routines as families — parents, spouses and children. We find ourselves stuck at home indefinitely. No tuition, no sleepovers, no trips to our favourite destinations and no more children and youth camps to rely on. Our coping strategies are being put to the test and it turns out many people use alcohol and drugs to cope with uncertainty,” he said.
He argued that drug use is a negative coping mechanism for stressful situations such as Covid-19. Drinking at home makes the situation worse and by the time the pandemic is over, many parents may find themselves with worse mental health problems including depression, anxiety disorders and addiction.
The Covid-19 pandemic has seen heightened online advertising, promotion and home delivery of alcohol products further predisposing children.
In the Nation story, parents interviewed admitted circumstances have forced them to take their favourite tipple from home after the government ordered all bars closed while a distributor admitted that demand for alcohol has grown by more than 100 per cent, with new business models of home deliveries taking root.
Traditionally, the highest risk to initiation and continued use of alcohol and drugs was at home and during the holiday period and the pandemic has only worsened the situation.
According to a survey conducted by Nacada in 2018, alcohol consumption at home is due in part to substance use by parents, children accompanying parents where alcohol is served and availability at home.
Mr Okioma says this position has now been reinforced when parents purchase alcohol and drink at home in the presence of children during this Covid-19 period.
A study conducted by the agency in 2016 to gauge perception of drugs and substances abuse in primary schools shows that a majority of the pupils are fairly knowledgeable on the different drugs and substances of abuse.
The survey established that tobacco, alcohol and bhang are the most widely known drugs with 89.3 per cent of the pupils saying they are aware that tobacco is a drug, another 83.8 per cent of the pupils are aware that alcohol is a drug and another 77.8 per cent aware that bhang/cannabis is a substance of abuse.
The survey also showed that seven out of 10 pupils regularly abuse prescriptions drugs, while three out of 10 use tobacco or alcohol, while two in every ten use alcohol, miraa or muguka.
The study further showed that 20.2 per cent of pupils have ever used at least one drug or substance of abuse in their lifetime, 10.4 per cent pupils have ever used prescription drugs in their lifetime, while 7.2 per cent of primary school pupils have ever used alcohol in their lifetime.
Common sources of drugs and substance abuse mentioned by pupils include kiosks or shops near school (28.6 per cent), bar near school (25.7 per cent), friends (19.3 per cent), bought from other students (13.7 per cent) and school workers (13.6 per cent).
The study also showed that common periods mentioned by primary school pupils when drugs are mostly abused include school holidays (30 per cent), on their way home from school (22 per cent), during weekends at school (21 per cent) and during interschool competitions (20 per cent).
The majority of students reported the home environment as the place where a substance of abuse was used the last time. Worth noting, however, is the high proportion of students who reported accessing prescription drugs within the school.
Mr Okioma says parents lack skills to effectively handle their children’s free time and to intervene in cases where they are either using or found in possession of substances of abuse, noting that this has been witnessed during this period when teenagers and youth ignore the Ministry of Health guidelines of staying at home and maintaining social distancing.
Mr Okioma says teen brains are more vulnerable to alcohol. Research shows that the teen brain does not fully develop until 25 years.
“Using drugs when the brain is still developing may cause long lasting changes and put the user at increased risk of addiction,” he says, adding that underage drinking increases the risk of alcohol problems later in life.
“People who start drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence (addiction) at some point in their lives. The age of initiation for most drugs in Kenya is 11-12 years.”