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Identifying an issue that should be addressed early

Early initiation of alcohol and other harmful substance use is an important predictor for developing substance use disorders in later life. CIH and CIH-associated researchers have undertaken a study reporting on the existence of childhood alcohol abuse and dependency in Eastern Uganda.

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The study is entitled: “I feel good when I drink”— detecting childhood‑onset alcohol abuse and dependence in a Ugandan community trial cohort. It was published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health. The study authors include Ingunn Marie Stadskleiv Engebretsen, Joyce S. Nalugya, Vilde Skylstad, Grace Ndeezi, Angela Akol, Juliet N. Babirye, Victoria Nankabirwa and James K. Tumwine. All are associated with CIH and CISMAC.

The background for the study is that alcohol, substance use, and mental health disorders constitute major public health issues worldwide, including in low income and lower middle-income countries. In addition, early initiation of use is an important predictor for developing substance use disorders in later life.

In the course of larger related studies (SeeTheChild—Mental Child Health in Uganda (also in the RCN database), PROMISE SB: Saving Brains in Uganda and Burkina Faso, and PROMISE EBF), the researchers used a diagnostic tool called MINI-KID to assess the mental health conditions of children who scored medium and high in another questionnaire, the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ). The MINI-KID included diagnostic questions on alcohol abuse and dependence, and descriptive data from the sub-study was used in this study.

The study was not designed to estimate prevalence or risk factors or to validate its findings. However, the data led to an unexpected discovery of cases of alcohol abuse and dependence among 5 – 8-year olds. Based on these findings, the researchers therefore recommend continued research in this area and highlight the need for increased awareness of these conditions in this age group. In addition, they note that health workers and educators working with this age group should not assume the non-existence of these conditions.