Teenage cannabis addiction on the rise
The number of Dutch under-18s addicted to cannabis is on the increase. Many of them begin smoking pot regularly at age thirteen, and get into such difficulties that they have to be admitted to a rehab clinic.
The young smokers are getting into conflicts with their parents, are dropping out of school and many of them are known to the police. They often steal to get money to finance their habit.
In the past year, 370 teenagers diagnosed with a cannabis addiction were staying in three specialised rehab clinics, a survey by NOS public TV has shown. Three more treatment centres are being built to cope with the rising number of young addicts. Since 2002 the number has increased fourfold.
One of the reasons behind the increase is the THC content of the drug, which keeps increasing as cultivators crossbreed powerful variants of the plant. THC is the active ingredient of cannabis. Figures from Jellinek Clinic show that "netherweed" contained 8.6 percent of THC in 2000, having almost doubled to 15.2 percent in 2002, making the drug much stronger - very much stronger than the "soft drug" that the parents of today's addicts remember from their own teenage years.
Cannabis use is widespread in the Netherlands. Statistics Netherlands, the government statistics office, found in August 2009 that half of all adult men between 20 and 25 had smoked at least one joint, and one third of women of that age. One in ten of the women and twice as many men were still smoking regularly, the statistics show.
"Some of the problem cases smoked their first joint at age nine, in the school playground," youth worker Eric de Vos told NOS. "The majority of cannabis users are taking the drug for a reason, as a sort of self-medication to fall asleep easily, to forget misery or quarrels in the family, or problems at school. It's no longer innocent. When those kids are received into the clinic, they are often suffering from psycho-social problems."
At the Bauhuus in northern Groningen, one of the three clinics, teenagers aged between 13 and 18 are submitted to a treatment lasting between six and nine months. This includes helping them kick the habit.
"I used to smoke seven or eight joints a day, which is quite a lot at my age," clinic inmate Lisa (16) told NOS TV. "I also drank a lot, but my main addiction was cannabis. My parents divorced when I was thirteen, and I couldn't cope with that. I supressed my grief by smoking pot. I wasn't able to kick the habit, because it is more addictive than many people think. It makes you very indolent, you don't go to school or to your sports clubs anymore, you quarrel at home and become very impolite and disrespectful.Your personality changes." Staying in the Bauhuus clinic really helps her get to grips with her life again, Lisa says.
Learning, or re-learning, social skills is central to life in the clinic.The teenagers learn how to hold their own in a group, and how to prevent themselves from relapsing into addiction. They are taught how to deal with emotions which were suppressed during the drugs use. Family therapy involving the addicts' parents, brothers and sisters is also offered. Sports and regular education are part of the programme.
No sex or drugs
The rules are strict in the clinic, and there is around-the-clock supervision. Supervisors not only stand by to help, but they are also checking whether the rules are respected. The children are not allowed to take any drugs, have sexual relationships or use violence. Anyone who breaks a rule is ejected from the clinic. You can only return if you accomplish a number of assignments.
Treatment in the clinic is deemed a success if both the addiction and a solution has been found for the underlying problems such as having drugs-addicted friends, or having a disfunctional relation with one's parents. After the stay in the centre, pupils will continue to get guidance and support for quite a while.