The family in Thailand and drug demand reduction: problems of urban Thai society in transition


The Thai family in society
Thai society in transition
The Thai family in the face of drug abuse
Profiles of urban versus rural drug abusers
The urban Thai family and drug abuse
Erosion ahead for the urban family?
Potential role of the family in reducing drug demand


Pages: 45 to 66
Creation Date: 1994/01/01

The family in Thailand and drug demand reduction: problems of urban Thai society in transition

S. SPIELMANN Director, Graduate Program in Criminology and Criminal Justice, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, Mahidol University, Bangkok


Thailand is undergoing ever-accelerating socio-economic transformation which exercises tremendous strains on its basic social institution, the Thai family. The family has traditionally exercised firm control over its members, thus ensuring cohesion and conformity to social norms. Progressive destabilization and disorientation of urban society resulting in a weakening of its foundations and gradual erosion of core functions has led to a deterioration of the family's role and importance.

The deterioration of the role of the family is even more critical in the Thai context because, traditionally, the Thai family provided the strongest and most dependable bulwark against social evils of any kind, not the least of which has become drug abuse. The grave state of the country's drug (heroin) abuse problems has recently been further aggravated with the emergent HIV/AIDS epidemic. That epidemic has affected substantial portions of intravenous heroin drug users, posing threats for families all over the country.

Evidently, affected families have not been able to protect vulnerable members from becoming drug users; worse still, families have frequently contributed to creating or compounding the problem. Measures need be taken to effectively check this detrimental trend and avert further erosion. The Thai family needs reorientation, parenting and family skills. That would help reinforce the role of the family in preventing drug abuse as well as in rehabilitating former users. To back up the Thai family, still other social groups need to be recruited which can assume some of its stabilizing functions.

The Thai family in society

Traditional role of the Thai family

The basic social institution in Thai society as in any society is the family [ [ 1] - [ 3] ], which traditionally exercised firm control over its members, thus ensuring cohesion and conformity to social norms. The family as an institution was even more important in Thai society because the social units above community level are much less distinct and much less relevant to the life of individuals [ [ 4] , [ 5] ].

Thais used to live together in extended families which they liked to characterize as ensuring warm relations among its members. Within the family, husband and wife were to raise their children and teach them social values and norms. The husband had ritual superiority over his wife and was the head of the family. Hence, the wife was supposed to show respect for her husband in certain symbolic ways. However, in daily life there were but few tasks which could be performed only by persons of one sex. Thus, to some extent, the traditional husband-wife relation reflected a division of labour of convenience.

The dominant Thai value system and its associated set of norms and behaviour patterns, mainly derived from Buddhist doctrine, were absorbed from early childhood on. Major portions of Buddhist doctrine that involved important views on family life were recited in temples. Social relations were characterized by verticality, deference of subordinates to- wards superiors. These "respect patterns" were universal and based upon status inequalities in all social relationships. The social hierarchies were determined by such factors as age, power, education, wealth and religious or government role, and were well entrenched within each individual. The older - younger and the senior - junior pattern guided the relationships effectively, so that the younger would always show respect for the elder. Status differences were reflected in conversation, since the pronouns used varied with rank and role of the speaker and that of the one spoken to. The family offered early and ideal training for this pervasive deferential behaviour. Family matters had priority over individual concerns; on the other hand, an individual was always respected in Thai culture.

Parents and children: the "golden chain"

Relations with children were close and intimate, and children never really grew up in the eyes of their parents. They were the "golden chain" to hold the generations together. The expectations of Thai parents with respect to an ideal child may be summarized as follows. The child was expected to be dutiful and submissive towards the parents, showing loyalty and compliance at an early age. He or she should behave well, which first of all meant paying respect to elders. Younger children were expected to show signs of compliance and devotion. Before entering school the ideal son was not given many responsibilities. But in school, he was expected to be a diligent student, thus laying the basis for an advanced education. The ideal daughter on the other hand, unlike her brother, was expected to assist her mother in the household affairs and with taking care of the younger siblings.

"Parental repayment" can be considered to be the cornerstone of the Thai value system. Support for elderly parents assumes both economic and social forms, and can be seen as repayment of children to parents for having borne, cared for and raised the child. It is an important component of the overall Thai normative structure. Parents expect and are entitled to being "repaid". Parental repayment also means to accumulate merit. Even after the death of their parents, children were expected to pay respect to a deceased parent and to gain merit in the temple on his or her behalf.

Thai society in transition

Thai society in rapid socioeconomic transformation

Thai society is a highly hierarchically oriented social system, ranked in terms of superiority and inferiority and conforming to practices of etiquette. There is the pervasive notion that life will be smooth and predictable if only everybody knew his or her place and acted accordingly. However, the rapid economic development of Thailand in recent years has begun to undermine previously rigidly ascribed status.

Over the past 150 years, modernization has occurred gradually, with accelerated change taking place in Bangkok, the capital, and in a number of smaller regional centres. The rural areas, which still account for three quarters of the population, are also gradually changing, albeit at a much slower pace than the urban centres. However, within the last three decades, the economy has expanded dramatically, and general socio-economic conditions have improved as well. Thailand, and in particular its teeming capital, as of recent years, is undergoing a process of ever-accelerating socio- economic transformation, with annual growth rates of close to or above 10 per cent. In particular, over the last decade, the economy has been near to over- heating, the per capita income has tripled, and the country is approaching the status of a newly industrialized country.

A reversal of traditions: temptations of urban life

Traditionally, Thais tended to see their ideal in the rural community. Hence, there had always been a popular notion that what is genuinely Thai emanated from rural families and communities, that is, village life [ 6] . With the recent rapid socioeconomic development of the urban centres, a crucial break with traditions becomes obvious: the idealization of the village community is giving way to a glorification of the city, especially in its ultimate form, the country's capital, Bangkok. Recently,

urban ways of life have become so fashionable that they have fostered new standards of appropriate attitudes and behaviour. Job opportunities, urban glamour and other attractions have induced utopian dreams in young people and uncalled -for aspirations which they hope to fulfil once they relocate to the cities. Another motive to leave the village is to escape strict parental and communal control.

Many, if not most of those migrants, are forced to take up shelter in a run -down part of the big cities, where crime and social evils are the rule rather than the exception. Frequently they end up in the cities' growing slums, where they face enormous hardships. This often leads to the break-up of migrant families, or at least, restricts or prevents a normal family life. Within the slums, the phenomenon of broken families is on the rise [ 7] . A disturbing new phenomenon has emerged, that of the family-less poor, individuals who without resources, homes or sources of support, completely fall out of the social system.

Westernization of Thai urban culture

These trends - of preferring urban ways over rural ones, leaving the village for good and migrating to the cities - reflect on a less complex level merely the development observed for the urban context, namely Thai values giving way to Western culture. At present, an obvious idolization of Western culture and life may be observed, an adoption of Western values [ 8] , in particular by urban middle class youth and younger adults. These new middle-class values oriented towards a global metropolitan culture represent the dream of a pervasive modern Thai urbanized culture, as propagated through television and pop culture. This results in intergenerational gaps, with the older parent generation selectively accepting more of the superficial paraphernalia and status symbols (dress, cars, homes). The younger generation has widely accepted and become deeply entrenched in Western values, including pop culture (songs, discotheques, karaoke, dress and other paraphernalia), the consumer and fast-food mentality, leisure time and vacationing habits, the quest for freedom and independence and incipient hedonism. In particular, Bangkok's young middle class (young executives) enthusiastically embraces "yuppieism" with all its display of the unabashed consumer mentality and conspicuous consumption [ [ 8] , [ 9] ].

Disruptive elements materializing in urban society

In conjunction with these developments, a host of elements are seen emerging within urban Thai society which contribute to escalating social evils such as drug abuse. These are undoubtedly linked to rapid economic development, as may be observed from modernization processes in many other countries. They include:

  1. The predominance of materialism;

  2. The need for achievement among both adults (at work) and children (at school);

  3. The widening socio-economic gap and trends towards polarization into "haves" and "have-nots", the former with posh houses, big cars and dreams of a rosy future free of unemployment;

  4. Poverty and slums, and the growing disillusionment of wide segments of the population;

  5. Traffic and environment problems in Bangkok on an unprecedented scale, resulting in constant stress and fatigue, precarious hours lost in daily traffic, and a tremendous reduction in time spent with the family and for leisure;

  6. Television and other media promoting a permissive lifestyle, consumer mentality, violence and drug use [ 10] .

Crucial family values, including obligations and expectations, the responsibility for, concentration on and devotion to bringing up children, and support of the older generation by the children, are changing in the course of rapid socio-economic development.

Pressures on the modern urban family

Against such a background, the family, in adjusting and narrowing its functions, has followed trends similar to the ones experienced in other Asian countries with fast- paced economic development and industrialization. The rapid socioeconomic development process exercises tremendous strains on Thailand's social institutions. In its wake, the Thai family, as an institution, has come under extraordinary pressure and been exposed to eroding forces. In particular, the modern urban Thai family, which usually is a nuclear one, appears to have come under massive siege and is in danger of losing its identity and stabilizing role in society.

Adverse effects on the urban family

Obviously, progressive destabilization and disorientation of society resulting in a weakening of its foundations and gradual erosion of its core functions has led to a deterioration of the family's role and importance. Adverse effects of overheating development have in urban areas begun to severely undermine its very basis. There is an obvious decline of family functions, a steady deterioration of the family's role; there is the partial erosion of the urban family. Functions formerly performed by the family are now taken over by peers, the mass media or the individuals, or they are lost. Concomitantly, the individual has won more freedom and gained in relative importance, at the cost of the family which can no longer enforce absolute conformity in such a fluid social context.

As recent studies have shown, the Thai family is in a period of rapid transformation to a modern family type [ [ 8] , [ 10] , [ 11] ]. Such times of transition are particularly trying. The aspirations of the urban population of Thailand suggest that the nuclear family will be the norm, with dual income earners, two children and reduced mutual obligations and expectations between parents and their offspring. Probably many grandparents will be isolated or removed. A considerable portion of the elder generation might largely be left to live alone [10, 11]. The future Thai family will have less cohesion and stability. In brief, the Western nuclear family with its lack of cohesion and minimization of family functions seems to lie ahead for Thailand.

The Thai family in the face of drug abuse

The Thai family and modern social evils

Traditionally, the Thai family provided the earliest and most dependable bulwark against social evils of every kind [ [ 12] , [ 13] ]. Prostitution, gambling and drinking were socially not permitted (in accordance with Buddhist precepts), nor was drug abuse. Hence, the fact that the Thai family seems to have lost its stride against negative forces in the quicksand of recent developments has to be considered even more critical. The relationship between fast-paced development and these problems is obvious. The general sense of uncertainty, broken homes, economic and social hardships, disillusionment with self, family, society, the over- emphasis on material values and the intense quest for entertainment and transitory pleasure, all provide fertile ground for the spread of social vices.

In the following discussion the focus will not be on the majority of (relatively) well-adjusted families which have adapted fairly well to the changing times, and which might be called the mainstream. Rather, those families will be portrayed which fared rather poorly or failed to adjust and have become broken, or have lost their identity in one way or the other, and which might be called the periphery, marginal families or families on the fringe. To understand the potential role of the family in making or unmaking a drug user or abuser, there is first a need to acquire a basic knowledge of Thai drug abuse and profiles of typical drug abusers.

Current status of drug abuse in Thailand

Drug abuse in Thailand, which had largely been confined to that of natural drugs until the mid-1950s, and had reached its peak in opium smoking by mostly elderly men, experienced a dramatic change with the advent of heroin and psychotropic substances. In little more than a decade, since about 1970, the drug scene shifted towards severe opiate abuse, compounded by the preferred route of heroin administration through injection [ 14] . By the end of the 1980s up to 90 per cent of heroin users in Thailand injected. Intravenous drug users in Bangkok were estimated in 1990 to be around 40,000, or 0.66 per cent of the 6 million inhabitants of the capital [ 15] , while other sources - and figures from treatment centres - indicate a higher ratio of drug-dependent persons. For Thailand, the number of heroin-dependent persons surpasses the 100,000 mark. This then is the major drug abuse problem of Thailand.

During 1992, drug treatment centres in Thailand catered for 61,887 patients (of whom merely 37 per cent were new cases). Only 1 in every 20 was a female. The current average age was 30 years, with 53 per cent single, only 37 per cent married, and 10 per cent divorced or separated. Seven of 9 initiated drug use before reaching 25, with the average at 21; they had used drugs for nine years. The first drug ever used was ganja (cannabis) for 54 per cent, followed by heroin (24 per cent) and opium (12 per cent). In the month prior to treatment, 83 per cent were dependent on heroin (with 70 per cent injecting) and 9 per cent on opium (80 per cent smoking), with 85 per cent professing to be mono-drug users. Nine per cent had received no formal education, 47 per cent merely primary, and the remaining secondary. At entry into treatment, 3 per cent were students, and 19 per cent unemployed. The data are skewed in so far as they tend to overrepresent drug-dependent persons from Bangkok (31 per cent) and central Thailand (34 per cent), rather than from other provinces. It is interesting to note that within the last year, of those undergoing treatment, 36 per cent had received I to more than 6 treatments [ 16] .

There should be no room for complacency and self -deception. The figures mentioned for drug abuse constitute merely the tip of the iceberg. Apart from escaping into local alcohol, lower -class Thais have their medicinal beverages and the upper classes their expensive Western whiskies. These are the real buffers protecting Thailand from an otherwise immense illicit drug problem. However, the consequences of tobacco consumption on individual and public health are obvious, and the direct and indirect cost of alcohol as a major public health problem certainly is not less than that of the illicit drugs. (Alcohol and other socially approved or tolerated drugs such as tobacco are not further discussed in the present article.)

Illicit drug abuse is a minority affair. However, it should not be for- gotten that even a tiny minority of 1 per cent of male adults means over 300,000 individuals, and implies devastation in 1 in every 20 Thai families. What were the major factors responsible for the escalation in abuse of modern hard drugs?

Profile of drug abusers

Individual choice of drugs always takes place in an institutional frame, in families, communities and under distinct economic, social and cultural conditions. In Thailand, the older (rural) opium smokers gave way to the younger (urban) heroin-dependent persons. From its urban bridgeheads heroin spread out all over the country, and has come back with a vengeance to its original producers, the hill tribes. Without any doubt, heroin is at centre stage, though there are sideshows such as slum pre-teenagers inhaling thinner, schoolchildren trying out tranquillizers, the young elite cocaine and lorry - drivers using amphetamines. Analogous to the growing division in Thai urban society, there is also a division noticeable in the drug abusing population. There are two major layers of urban drug abusers: those from upper established urbanites and users from lower classes, including new (transient or migrant) dwellers. Admittedly, those two types might not constitute the mainstream of urban society. However, drug abuse has always found its own niches.

Seen from a different angle then, one major group consists of urban drug abusers and the children of those achievers, the modern profiteers of development, who have lived in the cities for generations (consuming psychotropic substances and hallucinogens); the other group consists of those (and their children) who have lost out in the race, the poor and traditionally oriented, and the quasi-illiterate, reluctant incipient city dwellers, still alien to urban culture (preferring thinner, heroin and psychotropic substances). On the other side, there is yet another type: the rural drug abusers, still consuming more traditional drugs, including rural opium and ganja smokers (see table for profiles).

The picture is perpetually changing. However, one profile of a typical drug-dependent person emerges. He is the son of a large lower- income family with the father (or mother) being absent, separated or ineffectual. Hence, he rarely received proper and clear guidance. He has a poor school record and difficulty in competing with his peers [ 17] . Then there are other profiles representing drug abusers from well-to-do families where parents were over-ambitious on the one hand, and, on the other, offered the child money rather than their time, and were frequently absent from home.

Sometimes, traditional drugs such as cannabis are consumed by modern Westernized users (in a quasi -modern setting and sanctioned by their

Western idols). On the other hand, abuse of modern drugs might also occur involuntarily, for example among hill tribes that graduated from smoking raw opium to injecting heroin - this partly as an unwelcome yet not quite surprising side-effect of the successful opium crop replacement policy in Thailand. Concomitantly with the virtual departure of opium as a viable cash crop, there have been temporary shortfalls and artificially induced scarceness of opium.

Profiles of urban versus rural drug abusers


Item or trait




Labourer, unemployed
Student, unemployed
Socio-economic status
New Thai
New Thai
Reasons for initial use
Sickness, tension
Tension, stress
Curiosity, boredom
Opium, alcohol
Alcohol, ganja
Heroin, amphetamine
Alcohol, ganja, psychotropics
Duration (years)

Lorry-drivers fall in between urban and rural drug abuse, literally bridging both worlds. With their professional vice, abuse of amphetamines, taken in order to keep up with their time schedule, that is, in keeping up with development, they aptly demonstrate a paradox of progress. This is sadly illustrated by slum children inhaling thinner and petrol, otherwise symbols of development. These modern drugs are used by transient drug abusers who are not on the winning side in the development race.

The types portrayed go hand in hand with the general socioeconomic dichotomization. What led drug-dependent persons with such diverse backgrounds to their habits? The inability to cope with technology and the onslaught of rapid economic and other changes, certainly constitutes one of the main factors in the use of drugs. This definitely holds true for rural landless, underemployed slum dwellers, and in particular for the hill tribes whose inherited ways of life are threatened. Another major path lies in bored, pampered youngsters for whom proper limits have not been set.

Drug abuse in Thailand, once dominated by the "relief" type, as culturally more appropriate, is undergoing fundamental changes, entering another phase, with pleasure-type consumption appearing on the scene, certainly as one of the consequences of the loosening of social controls and loss of functions of the Thai urban family. With that trend, Thailand begins to follow Western drug abuse patterns. It applies to the tendency towards dichotomization of the drug scene into lower- and upper-class phenomena. Pakistan, Malaysia and other countries in the region report a similar disturbing development [ [ 18] , [ 19] ].

Drug abuse and HIV epidemics: reinforcing the vicious cycle

The grave state of the country's drug (heroin) abuse problems has recently become further aggravated with the emergence of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which swiftly reached substantial portions of high-risk groups [ 20] . The first recorded cases of HIV/AIDS infection in Thailand in 1984 involved homosexuals, followed by a wave of prostitutes and heroin injectors [ 21] . By the end of 1993 estimates for those infected for Bangkok stood at 100,000 [ 22] , and for the entire country at from 400,000 to 600,000, with predictions of between 2 million and 4 million for the year 2000.

At present, the HIV/AIDS issue poses threats for families of every socioeconomic stratum all over the country [ 23] , especially among drug abusers, who are most vulnerable to the rapid -transmission of HIV infection, thus posing additional hazards to their partners and families. Up to the end of 1987, only I per cent of drug users under treatment were HIV- seropositive. However, as a result of needle-sharing, the rate rose sharply to reach 40 per cent by mid-1988 [ 20] . At present, the figures have stabilized at around 30 to 35 per cent. Of the known cases of full-blown AIDS in Bangkok 20 per cent were heroin injectors [ 22] . The HIV/AIDS spectre greatly compounds the threat of intravenous heroin abuse, and aggravates the situation of the drug-dependent persons who are now ostracized for two reasons and rejected by society and their environment [ 23] .

The urban Thai family and drug abuse

Family traits as precursors of drug abuse

Besides negative factors prevalent in society at large, which provide fertile ground for social deviance, specific catalysts of social disruption and erosion have become visible in many families. These are tempting vulnerable individuals into social vices such as drug abuse. As adolescents

and younger adults are at the highest risk for initiating drug use, the family domain should be investigated for clues as to why young people start drug use. Apart from the ubiquitous loosening of values and familial ties, the following specific traits, precursors and indicators of juvenile drug abuse should be noted [ [ 7] , [ 17] , [ 23] , [ 24] ]:

  1. Parents frequently quarrel; father frequently absent and/or has a mistress; broken home; divorce rate escalating;

  2. Parents are too strict or show too much leniency; in particular, the mother might be too doting towards sons;

  3. Large-scale differentiations in the socialization of girls and boys, with parents being overly permissive towards boys;

  4. Perceived partiality of parents (preference for siblings);

  5. Generation (and educational) gap widening;

  6. Parents' overambition as to child's education and career;

  7. Father himself consumes alcohol (and other drugs).

Similar factors were also mentioned in studies on drug abuse in India [ [ 25] - [ 27] ], Indonesia [ 28] , Malaysia [ 19] , Nepal [ 29] , Pakistan [ 18] and Philippines [ 30] .

The family's inability to guard against social evils

The cases referred to above involved families in which situations adverse to the unimpeded development of children prevailed. However, drug abuse occurs also within so-called normal families. Evidently, afflicted individuals were not inoculated against becoming drug users. For a majority of drug - dependent persons their families failed to protect its most vulnerable members and provide them with the kind of resilience needed to ward off using drugs. Yet in most cases, not for lack of trying on the part of the family, total control and influence over the individual was lost irretrievably, or other negative factors weighed more heavily in the final analysis. Among the reasons cited for this failure was the fact that both parents worked, had no time for children, or tried instead to dispense with their parental duties by providing excessive pocket money. Parents and children were no longer speaking the same language, their needs and aspirations long since diverging [ [ 10] , [ 24] ]. With fewer children in a modern family, there are no elder siblings around, and with other social changes, grandparents and maids have also all but disappeared from the urban family. Kindergartens are inadequate substitutes for such crucial reference persons.

As to the families of the urban poor, other reasons prevailed for their failing to protect their vulnerable members, such as the general precariousness of existence, insecurity of job and residence and constant quarrelling. With no support to be extended and no property to bequeath, the parents' hold over their children is in any event precarious [ 17] . Broken families, even the breakdown of major functions of the family, can wreak havoc on its vulnerable members. "Family breakdown is reflected in increasing domestic violence, drug addiction,... and neglect. There is much to be done to raise awareness of these problems and their effects" [ 3] . Many of those factors are causes of drug abuse. However, the family factor appears to be most fundamental. The loosening or breakup in the parent- child relationship provides the common backdrop for the eventual descent into drug abuse.

Erosion ahead for the urban family?

The trends reported for the Thai family can only cause alarm. Admittedly, the majority of families are intact and well functioning. However, in the majority of slum families sampled, children often consider running away from intolerable conditions prevailing, in their immediate environment [ 17] . In more affluent families, the children generally complain that parents have no time for them, and that there is no open discussion. What might have gone wrong here? A core component of the Thai family has been the automatism of relations and obligations, all interpersonal relationships being interlinked, yet unequal. Historically, the family had a quasi-monopoly over its members; their attention and participation was guaranteed; there was no discussion, no explanation was needed; no questioning was thinkable. The individual could be taken for granted, as there was virtually no escape. That situation has changed fundamentally. There are now many options - some good, some bad - open to individuals; direct social control has worn away; sanctions are losing effect. Today, it is the other way round; the family can be taken for granted, and the individual no longer.

Once again, it should be kept in mind that in discussing recent changes that the Thai family and society at large have undergone, more potentially adverse consequences were singled out than positive ones, such as having the means and intention to provide children with the best education. Some of the negative outcomes might occur only in a few urban families, too few to warrant an outcry. However, since prevention is better than cure, this might serve as an early warning. On the other hand, there is no reason for being overly concerned or for overreacting. Processes of cultural change have occurred throughout history, and new, unknown features were mostly seen as negative while they were under way. Such a transition period is currently taking place. Thai society was an "affiliative" one in which people were dependent upon each other and found security in dependence and patronage rather than in individualism, as noted by Weerayut Wichiarajote, who two decades ago distinguished it from McClelland's "achieving society" (see Komin [ 31] ). Symptomatic for the "affiliative" ("achieving") society as to interpersonal relations are mutual dependence (independence) and small group (organizational) loyalty; the personality system being present- (or future-) oriented and externally (internally) controlled; conformity and stability (creativity and change); subjective (objective) decision-making; spiritual (material) concern; and the value of a "good heart" and good work. Socialization was achieved through harsh (rational) disciplining, an inconsistent (or consistent) pattern of reward and punishment, external (internal) control, and emotional and social dependency (competency).

The above - mentioned dichotomies - which in a nutshell reflect present predicament - help to better appreciate the difficulties prevailing in the modern Thai society and family. The difficulties are reflected in business, where family-type enterprises are gradually giving way to public companies, or in politics, where the patron - centred political parties of old seem reluctant to evolve into Western-style parties. The entire urban society is certainly undergoing a most painful process of cultural reorientation, prompting a clash of cultures, with the achieving side the most likely winner. Transformation, innovations and adjustments in the social environment take more time than in the industrial techno-economic sphere. Repercussions from such painful adjustment processes have to be cushioned, otherwise deviant attitudes and behaviour will accelerate. In particular, the current parent generation is under siege, having been socialized in a way which is not appropriate for present and future generations. Hence, parents are at a loss as to what else to pass on to their children than what has been transmitted to them. With ready-made solutions not at hand, foreign concepts cannot be adopted unfiltered. The foremost task is to identify appropriate socialization techniques, to be tested and promulgated through the most suitable channels (such as temples, kindergartens, schools and the mass media).

Potential role of the family in reducing drug demand

Effective measures to reduce demand for drugs

Given the detrimental developments afflicting Thai society and through it the family, there is a need to reflect on how to effectively check the trend, avert further erosion, and reinforce the role of the Thai family. That is a challenge of much greater significance to society than just the drug issue; at stake is the survival of what was known as Thai society. If society could adjust to the changed environment in a construc - tive way, that would take away the basis for many current problems, including drug abuse arising from adjustment problems.

As such large-scale adaptation of social institutions and of society is, however, a long-term process, an attempt should be made to narrow down the more superficial symptoms and indicators of social deviance and to help the family to come to terms with the drug menace. That would also enhance the role of the family in prevention of drug abuse as well as in rehabilitation. This has been recognized universally. "Families are affected in all regions of the world and are often involved in proposed solutions. As a result, professionals concerned ... have emphasized the relationship between families and drugs ... Families must figure prominently in the problem-solving required to achieve progress against this pressing global issue" [ 32] .

The challenge is to candidly analyse the status quo and then identify measures appropriate to the changed situation and needs of Thai society and individuals. A clear distinction has to be made between traditional, transient and "modern" abuse of drugs and the various social strata and population segments involved. The role played by societal transformation and by changes on the part of the family must be examined. Only then will it be possible to target measures so that they might have the desired effect. That applies in particular to the preventive aspect of demand reduction, which, given the high rate of relapse - up to 80 or 90 per cent, clearly is the road to take. And the family has to be prominently involved.

The individual personality is the product of the interaction of the individual with his or her environment. In its development, the child adopts attitudes and behaviour displayed in its environment. A child developing anti-social tendencies later in life often grew up in an environment which propagated related behaviour. Thus, the solution to changing a particular environment is to change the attitudes and behaviour of individuals living there [ 33] . Hence, proper nurturing of the child is crucially important to parents and society, as it will largely decide the individual's future attitudes and behaviour, towards self, others and society. The capacity to bring up children in an adequate manner ought to be restored.

However, most of the hopes pinned on the family, actions under- taken and current emphasis seem misdirected, in that they merely reach families at low risk. Without doubt, it is important to reach the approximately 80 to 90 per cent of low -risk families with general drug awareness messages; these might save quite a few of the potential 10 to 20 per cent of regular drug abusers coming from that population segment. For the remaining families from the low-income and destitute spectrum and from the upper echelons of society, groups from which the majority of drug abusers emerge, there is a need for specific approaches, different from that appropriate for the majority. When observing the various drug abuse profiles, with diametrically opposed family types involved, it might be doubted that a uniform approach will work. That leads to questioning a uniform family strategy for demand reduction. What then could be undertaken for the different groups of families concerned?

Prospects for the family in drug demand reduction

A candid assessment is required. Typically, drug abuse, like many other socially undesirable behaviours, tends to occur with vulnerable individuals and families: broken homes; one -parent families with low economic status and poor educational backgrounds; and the presence of many children. These are common precursors to drug abuse. When prostitution, gambling, poverty and slum environments are added to the equation, major indicators of and catalysts for escalating social problems are present. If that holds true, the reverse might be valid as well. If factors, traits can be reversed, the ensuing social problems, such as drug abuse, might also be reduced. It is clear, then, that the family could play an important role in preventing or reducing drug abuse.

Confucius had it right: "What the family is, such will society be". Hence, consideration of the family must be at the core of any policy aimed at achieving development. The family should retain what is worth preserving and adopt what is worth adopting. Success in that endeavour would restore the position of the family among social institutions playing a major role in preventing the spread and escalation of social evils. It would also help to stabilize the larger society and reduce the incidence of major social problems.

Obviously, the urban family has lost or is in danger -of losing certain crucial functions of the traditional Thai family, such as absolute control and supervision, full parental control over assets and produce, and total care of the children by parents and relatives. Some of those functions have been or can be taken over by other social institutions and groups, while certain family functions deserve to be revitalized. Again others will be lost to the family for good.

The foremost task then will be to provide Thai families with effective tools to salvage what functions can be salvaged, and to establish and maintain a meaningful dialogue and frank exchange of opinions, fears, needs and aspirations. In short, parenting skills must be taught to parents. The parents' own needs were different when they were young; today's youth have new needs, and that fact needs be accepted in the first place. Parents often are unable to cope with, or even to comprehend, what their children are experiencing. Their ignorance of that phenomenon and denial of its existence further aggravates the problem. It is time to candidly assess the reasons for such denial. Most parents would whole- heartedly reject any notion that they are not good parents, that theirs is not a healthy family, that their children, who never complain, are not happy and feel uncared for. That results from the feeling that they have done their best, invested a great deal of money in education, and bought all the expensive toys and status symbols.

One of the most pressing issues is then to learn and practise the open non-offending exchange of opinions - an entirely new experience for Thais, which will lead to disillusionment and disappointment on the part of all involved. But it would also eliminate many covert frictions and frustrations, and thus be a most meaningful tool for prevention of social deviance and drug abuse. In particular, premarital counselling of young couples would be useful, a method tried by the author with considerable success; also worthwhile are experiments with kindergarten children. That would automatically give access to future parents and younger children. The most valuable contribution of the family towards reduction of demand for drugs would undoubtedly be reorienting its socialization techniques without paying any special attention to the drug issue. That can best be achieved through conveying to them parenting and family skills. Through such changes, the vast majority of youngsters would grow up in families where a realistic upbringing is attempted, and most of those would automatically be protected from falling into the use of (illicit) drugs.

Assigning the family a realistic role in prevention

Apart from programmes which would benefit all families, specific ones need to be targeted to vulnerable families. Neither the Government, society at large, the community, nor the family per se can effectively and universally prevent drug abuse. However, as the initiation to drugs usually occurs at a young age, the potential influence of the family in stemming the tide becomes clear. Undoubtedly, a revitalized family can help prevent or reduce the risk of prolonged and ultimately dependent drug use. That might be achieved by enhancing life skills and reducing precursors such as those mentioned above, and thus the risk of deviant attitudes and behaviour of younger family members.

Loss of common ground and aspirations between the generations, in short, a communication breakdown, will alienate adolescents from their family, and can eventually lead to deviant behaviour. That trend needs be reversed through introducing an open dialogue. A concept suitable for Thai culture, which emphasizes identification of problems, needs to be developed. That would help individuals to better appreciate an intact social unit such as a group or the family. Such a process offers growth in the sphere of self -responsibility and the limits and opportunities of individual freedom and choice (a modified therapeutic community approach might be useful here [ 24] ).

Admittedly, the belief that parents are at fault every time an adolescent starts using drugs is a myth. However, as the role of parents and the family is vital, particular attention needs to be paid to drug awareness programmes for parents and the family. Parents need to be educated; most fail out of ignorance, not because of bad intentions. Parents of vulnerable youth also need help in parenting skills. To acquaint them with such techniques might be more helpful than any specific drug education course. Another approach is a drug awareness programme specifically targeted at high-risk families containing components to promote the cognitive domain, such as information, knowledge and education, the affective domain, such as change in attitudes to more positive thinking, and the psychomotor domain, which also includes active involvement.

The Government alone cannot fight the drug menace without community participation. There is a need for parents in high-risk areas to organize themselves into groups to fight drug abuse. The basic advantage of involving parents in groups is that they can accumulate their strength and become more accessible to knowledge and skills needed to improve their family life. In the Thai cultural context, it is less offensive to address shortcomings in a more neutral setting than that of a particular family. To groups of parents could be demonstrated exemplary behaviour towards children: how to resolve family conflicts through family decisions and discussions; how to provide love and care to children; how to create a healthy and stable family; and finally, how to educate children about drugs. If guided and given achievable tasks, Thai parent groups can be an important resource and partner in tackling the drug menace. They could help to enrich family relations through initiating and enhancing communication between parents (a demanding-enough task), and between parents and children. For lower-income, high-risk youth, positive alternatives to drug abuse need be offered, in school or homes, including challenging, yet supportive and enjoyable, alternatives such as scouting, games, sports and competitions. Life-enhancing skills' courses might also be extended to particularly vulnerable youth.

Role of the family in rehabilitation

Generally, the preventive aspects of the drug demand reduction equation has been the focus of the discussion in the present paper. However briefly, rehabilitative aspects also need mentioning. As it is, frustrated families have opted out of the treatment of their child, because he or she has proven too difficult to manage while drug-dependent. However, wherever feasible, the family must contribute to making the rehabilitation process a success.

From visits during treatment to emotional and financial help and employment, parents and the family must be involved in reintegrating their member into the larger society. The role of the family in treatment, rehabilitation and reintegration has been given a lesser role, in favour of institutions that can and will not replace it. However, parents and the family can and must play an important role if the tide is to be turned. What is needed is to break through any reserves the family might have and to extend lessons and information materials to family members while their relative is under treatment. They need to be informed about their potential roles in order to provide them with a firm grasp of what the family can and should do, and where limits to its intervention are. (Formation of parents' support groups would be a great asset.)

In Thailand, in addition to the family, government hospitals, Buddhist temples and therapeutic communities are available for treating drug dependents. However, those institutions remain largely isolated, and usually are not interlinked with the families of their clients. Concepts of family therapy and other forms of family involvement urgently need to be extended to professionals and staff of those institutions, and simple ways and means demonstrated as to how to reach and involve families.

Social groups to relieve the family

The entire range of target-specific approaches at the family level, as outlined above, entails parenting and family skills, parent self -help and support groups, and interventions targeted at youth, involving life skills, positive alternatives etc. Without the full involvement of families and the community, there can be no sustained improvement of quality of life for society and the individual. Families contribute to the stability of all types of communities, and thus are the natural partners of development initiatives and efforts to improve social conditions: they are the "natural non- governmental organizations". To back up the Thai family in such efforts, and to make up for functions irretrievably lost by the family, still other social institutions and groups need to be recruited to assume some of its stabilizing functions.

The most important of the partners, Buddhist temples, are supporting drug education, treatment and rehabilitation programmes. It would be beneficial to introduce parenting and family skills programmes through the temples, with the help of monks. In schools, parents can be active through parent- teacher associations, which can play a very important role in preventive strategies. Partnerships between parents and teachers can help avoid the attitude of declaring the other responsible for the shortcomings of the children. Teachers must correct parents' ambition; parents must help their children to cope with school and peers. Parents must comprehend that their task in bringing up children is not finished when they enter the school system. Teachers should be sympathetic partners of parents, as most of them are parents too.

The mass media needs to be put in a position to promulgate positive messages and to help bridge intergenerational gaps between parents and youth. In particular, television dramas need to be more realistic, portraying the life of Bangkok's "young, rich and beautiful" less, and depicting the real life of real people with realistic problems and solutions. In brief, positive role models need to be propagated. Television programmes for youth should contain less glamour, and more guidance on how to grow up and act responsibly.

City administrations need to be more actively engaged in providing appropriate social infrastructure such as parks, playgrounds, sports and other clubs for youth from low-income areas and families, to offer them the quality of life they cannot find in their homes. Positive activities need to be promoted. Youth counselling centres and telephone services need to be offered. Community resources need to be mobilized and maintained in order to take over functions families can no longer per- form. Joint efforts of local government, community, families, informal (peer) groups and individuals concerned can make all the difference.

Supportive roles of promoters and leaders

The role of civic groups should be to help families in their tasks and to help the groups outlined above. One of the major supportive groups are the non-governmental organizations (not necessarily limited to those which specialize in drug issues). Such organizations could emphasize in their respective programmes that parental participation is an integral part of the prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and after-care process. They could develop and organize parent education programmes in the area of "society and development" and parenting skills, and coordinate those programmes. Non-governmental organizations might come forward to act as mediators for meetings involving parents and youth, in order to foster communication between the two groups. They can identify needs and organize positive activities for high-risk youth of vulnerable lower- income families and youth without functioning families. Drug- specialized non-governmental organizations could train heads of parent- teacher associations as suitable promoters and leaders. Non-governmental organizations could educate and train youth to become peer group leaders. Other civic groups, such as the Rotary and Lions clubs, could also play a role in such activities.



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