When “addiction” is mentioned in children under fourteen, one might immediately think of an uncontrollable desire for mobile phones, social media, or computer games. However, experts are warning that in recent years, there has been a creeping increase in substance addiction among children, an issue that was more prevalent among their parents’ generation: alcohol, medications, and drugs.
According to experts, the number of dependent children under 14 is rising. These dependent children find it challenging to seek help because most addiction clinics specialize in adolescents aged fifteen and above.
A Fifty Percent Increase in Ten Years
“In practice, we have observed increased addictive behavior among children and adolescents. The combination of alcohol, drugs, and medications is increasingly being abused by children under fourteen. Unfortunately, addiction services for this age group are entirely lacking,” recently warned Martina Kajzarová, head of the Social and Legal Protection department of Children in Třinec, at a parliamentary seminar.
Soňa Petrášková, director of the Safety Line, confirmed that the number of interventions, situations where a hotline worker needs to call for professional help for a child in distress, is on the rise.
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Most often, they turn to toxicology, which means that the calling child is under the influence of life-threatening substances. “Last year, there were 122 interventions, and we have already surpassed this number in September this year. We contact toxicology most often,” said Petrášková. However, it is not only about suicide attempts.
Jiří Pilař, deputy director of the Key Educational Care Center in Prague, stated that children in this age group are more likely to experiment with prohibited substances, which can lead to addiction.
“We admit children age fifteen to the Care Center but also provide outpatient treatment for younger children. We encounter twelve-year-olds and even ten-year-olds. There is more of it. When we compare data from twelve years ago and last year, we have seen a fifty percent increase,” Pilař said.
“It has worsened a lot after COVID, but it’s not just because of COVID. Children are increasingly struggling with challenging life situations, unable to cope with stress, and trying to escape from problems,” the doctor believes. “However, from a healthcare perspective, there are obstacles. Child psychiatrists and psychologists are in short supply, and psychiatric clinics practically do not accept child patients,” Pilař added.
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One of the clinics that offers help to dependent children is the Addiction Clinic at the General University Hospital in Prague. “We have an increase, although it is relatively gradual compared to non-substance addictions,” said Michal Miovský, head of the clinic.
“In this order, we discuss alcohol, stimulants, cannabis, and medications. Opioids are not typical for the child clientele,” he clarified.
Miovský also stated that the concept of child and adolescent care in addiction is currently undergoing internal review and will be submitted to the government. It should contribute to the legislative establishment of facilities that can help dependent children. “Child services cannot grow independently, so the state must do something about it,” Miovský said.
According to him, some facilities are already being established. “We currently have about eight clinics and pilot projects in the Czech Republic. One of them is the Diagnostic Institute in Prague