Singapore

'I wanted to be a better mother': Former teen addict who gave up drugs

Female drug abusers who are able to stay clean are usually motivated by families, according to local study

By the time Ms Hannah Chun was 20, she had been jailed twice for drug offences and given birth to her eldest child during her time behind bars.

When her son was three, he mimicked her behaviour of smoking cigarettes. This shocked her and made her determined to give up drugs.

Ms Chun, now a 36-year-old housewife and mother of four, said: "I wanted to be a better mother and someone my family could be proud of. I also found comfort in Christianity."

She has three sons aged six, nine and 17, and a two-year-old daughter.

Ms Chun's motivation for leaving the world of drugs resonates with other female drug abusers here, a local study has found.

Published in the Journal Of Women And Criminal Justice in August, it found that female drug offenders who were able to abstain from drug abuse were usually motivated to do so for their families.

The authors of the study said: "They felt the responsibility to set good examples for their children and would prioritise their needs after release."

Others channelled their desire to be better daughters and wives into motivation to stay clean.

A common issue these offenders faced, however, was difficulty communicating with their families. Nine out of the 11 interviewees said they were reluctant to share their problems with family members as they assumed their families would have adverse or unhelpful reactions.

This had contributed to them seeking the company of drug-taking peers in the first place.

Ms Lowshanthini Panesilvam, one of the study's authors, said: "Even if they have found this new identity (as a mother, wife or daughter) that they want to focus on, if the relationships at home are not taken care of, they might fall back into the same pattern of anti-social behaviours."

Ms Lowshanthini, a psychologist at the Singapore Anti-Narcotics Association, added: "If we feel that family issues are a threat to maintaining their sobriety, we will refer them back to their case workers."

The number of women convicted of drug-related offences in Singapore has been increasing, from 371 in 2019 to 471 last year.

For Ms Chun, her husband of 10 years, Mr Caleb Toh, 44, has been her greatest pillar of support. They met at a nightclub where she was working as a hostess at age 22. Mr Toh, who is self-employed, is the father of their three younger children.

Ms Chun said: "He helped me find interests that made me see life beyond drugs. We went for cooking classes together and I ran a beauty business doing facials and massages for a while."

She is now an executive member at Christian charity organisation The Turning Point, which offers shelter to female offenders.

Ms Chun said her husband never condemned or shamed her when she slipped back into her past behaviours.

"He always encouraged me and I felt I could share my struggles with him. That really helped me stay on the path to recovery."

COURT & CRIME