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Essam Youssef Addresses Drug Addiction in our Society

By Hilary Diack

“In every house, in every big family, there is an addict.” It may sound harsh, but writer Essam Youssef has the credentials and experience to know what he is talking about. His best-seller, A 1/4 Gram is based on a true story and deals with the path to addiction without pulling any punches. From the first tentative puff of a joint at a party, to experimentation with substances that have a different  ‘kick’, and on to the almost inevitable downward spiral when the body has reached a point where it can only struggle on with increasing larger doses of the ‘fix’. Cairo West Magazine sat with him to discuss his book, and the impact it has had, as well as his ongoing work in the community to increase awareness on the dangers of drug use.

CWM: Essam, how did you come to learn so much about the problems of drug abuse and addiction In Egypt?

It goes back to the 80’s, when I was in school. Even then, drugs were everywhere. I always felt a need to tell people about the reality, so as I became older I became a researcher with a dream of making a movie to expose the problem, something that would show the real facts, not just a seductive, and glamorized soap-style version.

How endemic is the problem, and where are the most common places young people get introduced to drugs?

Beyond the scope of your imagination, drugs are everywhere. You cannot single out one place and ignore the others. Basically you are talking about any place where young people gather.

What age groups are the most vulnerable?

Starting from as young as 11. Kids know about drugs from a very early age, and soon learn where they can be found. The danger is that at that age they are very open to exploring and experimenting in everything, a normal and healthy phase of learning and growing up. Everything is “why?”

Which drugs are the most abused, and what are the associated risks?

It’s a misconception that the so-called ‘soft’ drugs are not harmful. Even a few puffs from a cigarette can lead to trying the marijuana-derived bango and hashish, which in turn can lead to trying heroin, crack, cocaine, amphetamines and opiates like Tramadol. It’s like a train; you don’t know when and where it will stop. With addictive drugs, the first few times the user feels enjoyment with a small dose, but quickly needs larger and larger doses to feel the same effect. The general state of health deteriorates and this soon leads to needing very large doses, not to feel the same ‘high’, but to even feel that they can function. The pleasure aspect is gone very early in the game. In order to find money to meet the body’s craving it regularly leads to a loss of previously held moral standards. An addict can feel he or she has no option at times but to lie or steal, even from those closest to them.

There are drug types found at every level of the community, with the so-called A-class showing a preference for cocaine, while amphetamines and bango are fairly universal.

What are the main traits of a personality with addictive tendencies?

Let’s face it: we are all addicts. To social media, our hobbies, sports, working out, our favorite foods, alcohol or drugs, the list is endless. Some individuals are addicted to sex or violence. There are 55 identified types of addiction, drugs are just part of that. It just depends on your age and circumstances. It is easy to get sucked in through peer activity.

What are the steps in dealing with someone who has a drug problem?

Seek professional help immediately. There is no room for trial and error, or going to amateurs for help. The problem is real and dangerous. The center Sandook Mokafahat Al Edman Wi Al Ta’aty has highly trained specialized doctors

and staff who are of great help. They can be found through the website: www.drugcontrol.org.eg

What social conditions are likely to lead young people to get caught up in drugs?

There’s no one reason. Children from well-off families are often involved. Over-indulgent, inattentive parenting helps to feed the phenomenon. There is also a lot of unawareness and inexperience from the family’s side.

So, do you feel that families tend to go into denial mode when there is a suspicion of drug use?

No parent wants to believe that their child uses drugs, so when a child says that they just tried something once out of curiosity the parents are often more than happy to accept that and drop the subject.

Do people now understand that addiction is an illness and not just deviant behavior?

There is a gradual improvement as the subject is being brought out more into the open.

From your experience what protective measures can parents take to steer children away from taking that path?

One of the helping factors has been my book, A 1/4 Gram, it has been a real eye-opener for many parents. As a parent myself, I strongly recommend that parents and kids read it together chapter by chapter. It is a true story, and like a dictionary, it gives a very detailed idea of what drugs are used, the whole culture surrounding drug use and how kids are approached. I spent two years of my life working on this book to help spread the message. A key factor is that parents have to be willing to discuss the issue of drugs in an open and non-accusatory way with their kids, to give informed guidance and support. Threats of punishment will just drive the whole matter into hiding. The worst thing you can do is forbid them to dabble, kids are naturally rebellious!

It seems then that your book has been very effective in spreading awareness of the problem.

Yes, I believe so. For example, one of Egypt’s leading psychiatrists and addiction experts, Dr. Nasser Loza, actually uses the book as part of his treatment plan. We also worked closely together on a committee to tackle drug prevention in Egypt and the GCC communities, more information about that can be found on www. mentorarabia.org. Dr. Loza has a very human perspective and years of experience in the field and his work can be considered at the forefront of treatment in Egypt.

We know that your mission extends further than bringing awareness through your book. Can you tell us about your project?

As schools are a concentrated gathering point for our youth we bring the message to them directly. The idea actually came through a 15-year-old who had read my book and asked me to come and give a talk at his school. Unfortunately, to date there has been remarkably little done in terms of drug education at any level in schools. As a result, in 2010 I set a up a program of visits to schools, universities clubs and cultural centers. We hold interactive discussion groups, not simply lectures. In these sessions, young people can voice their opinions, questions and concerns freely. To date we have covered more than 150 venues, meeting over 150,000 students.

I am currently starting my 2015 drug awareness road show now in September, and wholeheartedly invite schools, universities and clubs to contact me to arrange a visit. There is no fee, and any contributions received go directly to purchasing copies of A 1/4 Gram for the school libraries.

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