Drug abuse is a thorny issue that bedevils every society and causes serious concern to its government due to the devastating consequences, it has on the development of a nation and wellbeing of its citizens. Although drug is abused in almost all the countries of the world, it tends to be more prevalent in certain countries, which invariably makes such countries more susceptible to crime. Countries like Venezuela, Malaysia, Columbia, South Africa and of course Nigeria are notorious for drug peddling and drug related crimes. The issue of drug abuse has become very endemic in a developing country like Nigeria, which is bedeviled with all forms of socioeconomic challenges ranging from insecurity (kidnapping, herdsmen attacks, and banditry), poverty, low standard of education, nepotism and many others.
The fact remains that there is a thin line between drug use and drug abuse, which makes it very easy for people, particularly the youths to become vulnerable to the later. Before delving into factors that predispose young people to crime, its consequences and prevention, it is very pertinent at this juncture, to look at the meaning and differences between drug use and drug abuse.
Simply put, drug use is the intake of drugs or medication based on the prescription of a qualified medical practitioner, while drug abuse is the use of drugs without the prescription of a qualified Medical Practitioner. The truth is that some of the commonly abused drugs often times are not even illegal drugs such as; Psychoactive drugs (psychedelics and hallucinogens) and opioids (pain killers) like some people often think, but rather are common over the counter medications like cough syrup and simple analgesics. Some people even resort to very gross and unhealthy form of behaviour to “get high” such as; sniffing of pit toilet very early in the morning or sniffing of dirty gutter. Addiction to certain over the counter medication as aforementioned, has led to the ban of medications like Codeine and Tramadol by the Nigerian government, yet this has in no way curbed the prevalence of drug/substance abuse. On the contrary, it has made most addicts to apply their ingenuity to more harmful means of consuming the already banned substances, such as mixing them (illegal drugs) with fermented urine or with common drinks (La Casera and Zobo drink), in such a manner that it could not be easily detected by law Enforcement Officials.
The reason for such “ingenuity” can be attributed to the fact that many people, including the Nigerian government tend to be suffering from the bird ostrich phenomenon. We tend to be more concerned with addressing the symptoms of thorny national issues, instead of dealing with the real situation once and for all.
The issue of curbing the prevalence of drug/substance abuse is more than banning a few substances that are easily abused, it extends to understanding what predisposes people to abuse drugs and coming up with policies that could help to effectively curb it. Among the many factors that predispose people to drug abuse include genetic and environmental factors.
1. Genetic Factor: This is one of the factors that could lead to drug abuse. Numerous studies have shown that children of parents who abuse drugs are more likely to abuse drugs as well, since drug abuse has been known to run in families. Even though having parents that abuse drugs puts a child at risk, a child may still grow up without necessarily having to abuse drugs, giving the right psychosocial support.
2. Environmental factors: One of the environmental factors that could lead to drug abuse is
• Peer influence. Peer influence determines to a large extent how people abuse drugs, especially young people. Sometimes young people are compelled to abuse drugs in order not to appear strange among their peers. Through the pressure they get from peers and friends, some of them end up using drugs as aforementioned and once they do, the likelihood of continuing with it is quite high and they could become addicted to it in the long run.
• Also stress is another environmental factor that could lead to drug abuse. When people are faced with overwhelming challenges at work or home, it could make them vulnerable to drug/substance abuse, which they often resort to as a coping mechanism.
• Another environmental contributor to drug abuse especially among young people is unemployment and lack of proactive engagement. The idle man they say is the devil’s workshop, and this is very true among young people, who are not engaged proactively. When people have no jobs or skills with which they can use to make a living or occupy their minds, they are more likely to resort to alchoholism or the use of drugs to deal with the frustration they are already going through.
3. Psychological Problems: This is another environmental factor that could contribute to drug abuse. When people are suffering from psychological problems like depression or anxiety, they tend to resort to drug use as a coping mechanism. The use of drugs in order to cope with feelings of depression and anxiety, etc, has been known to lead to drug abuse, which aggravates the life of the individual who is already battling with mental illness. For instance benzodiazepines, a class of drugs also known as minor tranquilizers that are used in the treatment of anxiety, are known to have high addictive tendency.
Drug abuse is indeed a hydra headed monster that should be avoided like a plague due to the devastating consequences it has not just on the individual, but also the family and the society as a whole. It calls for immediate attention particularly in our society, but before looking at the possible means of curbing this menace, it is imperative to look briefly at it consequences starting with the individual.
Consequences of Drug Abuse
1. On the part of the individual, it can affect ones academic performance if the person happens to be a young student. This is due to absenteeism from all academic related activities and lack of attention in class, which leads to poor grades. This in turn could lead to frustration and a greater likelihood to drop out of school.
2. It could equally lead to crime and impaired judgment as some individuals who commit crime attribute to it to being under influence of drugs. Apart from this, there is a great likelihood of ending up in prison as a result of crime related offences.
3. Drug abuse also has severe health consequences on the individuals which includes, weakening of the immune system, risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS due to sharing of needles and unsafe sex and respiratory problems as a result of cigarette and marijuana smoking. According to drug abuse warning network DAWN 2011, a good number of young people who abuse drugs, face high risk of death through suicide, homicide, accident and illness.
4. Drug abuse also has devastating effect on the family of its victims. It leads to family crisis such as violence as a result of being under the influence of drugs and stealing in order to buy drugs. Sometimes it leads to the disintegration of the family as well as drain of family’s financial and emotional resources.
5. The society at large is not spared of the devastating consequences of drug abuse. When individuals commit crime under the influence of drug abuse, other members of the society get affected either by losing their lives or properties. The government ends up spending so much in keeping those who committed drug related offences in correctional facilities as well as investing so much in insecurity so as to protect the society from drug related offences, which if reduced could be channeled into other projects that are more beneficial to the citizens.
Having looked at the consequences of drug abuse on individuals and the society at large, it is worthwhile to look at preventive measures, through which drug abuse can be curbed in our society. They include the following:
Some psychological principles or treatment are employed in the treatment of drug/substance abuse, one of them include behaviour therapy: This has to do with the use of behavioural principles and techniques to deal with drug abuse related cases. Behaviorists believe that every behaviour is learnt and therefore can be unlearned, but in order to do this, the therapist has to get the learning history, which will enable him or her to assist the client in unlearning the behaviour in question, before administering the required behavioural therapy. Certain behavioural techniques like token economy, relaxation therapy, systematic desensitization, aversion therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy can be employed in helping people deal with the challenges of drug abuse. It can be administered by Psychologists, Psychiatrists, as well as social workers and counselors, who are well trained on psychotherapy skills. On the other hand, Psychoanalysts (psychotherapists who believe in the use of psychoanalysis to deal with psychological issues) who believe that drug abuse is a symptom of an underlying issue, which an individual can deal with if he or she is able to uncover the main problem that one is reacting to, resort to more in depth talk therapy to enable a victim of drug abuse deal with his/her problem.
There is medical treatment for each substance that an individual is addicted to, but such practice is not really common in this part of the world. For instance, addiction to opioids is treated with opioid related substances like methadone or buprenorphine. They produce the same symptoms like heroin and other opioids but suppress withdrawal symptoms and cravings.
For Tobacco addiction, there is Nicotine Replacement therapies such as spray, gum and lozenges that work by preventing relapse in individuals who are trying to quit. Also for alchohol, there are still medications that are used in the treatment of alchohol, which either reduces the withdrawal symptoms associated with stopping the intake of alchohol or produces unpleasant sensation that will make it difficult for one to go back to alchohol intake.
While treating a drug addict with medication, it is always important to combine it with psychotherapy, so that the individual can be trained handle the behavioural factors that could contribute to drug abuse. Prior to treatment, it is also imperative to do proper diagnosis to determine whether the addiction is stemming from mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, so that the right treatment approach will be adopted.
In addition to this, there should be a functional rehabilitation centers in all the states, where drug abuse victims can have proper access to the right treatment (psychotherapy and medication).
Having a circle of family and friends who are very supportive, can help one deal with the challenge of drug/substance abuse, unlike when an addict does not have a supportive family. When the former is the case, family members go out of their way to look for where the individual can get the required help and provide the necessary requirement needed to ensure that.
Also the environment where a victim of drug abuse resides, determines how he/she can deal effectively with drug abuse. If a drug addict resides in a crime prone area, for instance and has people of questionable character as friends, there is a high tendency that even after treatment, such an environment can predispose the individual to drug abuse again.
Furthermore, the nature of work one goes a long way to determine how an individual copes with drug abuse. When ones job is not very stressful or mounts undue pressure on a drug addict (unrealistic targets and long hours of work), the likelihood of staying off drugs is high.
In summary, the issue of drug/substance abuse is a thorny issue that we are faced with in our contemporary society as stated ab initio. As a result of this, a multi-dimensional approach should be adopted in order to deal effectively with this scourge. All hands must be on deck including; the government, parents, teachers, faith based leaders, and of course law enforcement agents, in order to eradicate it completely or better still, reduce it to a barest minimum.
Carrol, K.M., & Onken, L.S. (2005). Behaviour Therapies for Drug Abuse. American Journal of Psychiatry. 162(2), 1452-1460. Doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.162.8.1452
Drug Abuse Warning Network,2011: National Estimates of Drug-Related Emergency Departmental Visits.
United States Department of Health and Human Services. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality. National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2014. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor], 2016-03-22. https://doi.org/10.3886/ICPSR36361.v1