Drug abuse…growing beyond bounds

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Young writer, FAVOUR OZOEMENA traces the historic root of drug abuse among youngster and seeks the views of experts for solutions. She writes

DRUG and substance abuse are now prevalent almost everywhere. The trend has become worrisome and somewhat untractable.


Substance abuse, also known as drug abuse is a patterned use of a drug in which the user consumes the substance in quantities, that are beyond requirement or with methods that are harmful to others. The abuse can be a pattern of harmful use of any substance for mood-altering purposes.

The history of substance abuse is a long and complicated one. In ancient Mesopotamia (the area now known as Iraq) agriculture began to flourish and a large network of city states started to gain prominence. The cultivation of wheat and barley gave birth to another product, beer. Given that the new cities, the water was not particularly healthy, the weak alcohol content in beer off a lot of harmful organisms in the water.

While the beer was not particularly strong, it also was not particularly nice as the concept of sterility was unknown in 3,000 BCE. Consequently addiction to alcohol was rampant in the so-called cradle of civilisation and people during that time generally lived shorter lives.

Thanks to diseases and presumably, drunkenness. As beer was gaining popularity, the Indians, Assyrians and Egyptians were cultivating and preparing opium from opium poppy. As time went on, the existence of substance for “relaxation” was not unfamiliar until 1987, when the American Medical Association recognized addiction as an illness.

People are most likely to begin abusing drugs-including tobacco, alcohol, prescription drugs and illegal drugs-during adolescence and young adulthood. Research by the National Institute on Drug Abuse shows that by the time they are seniors, almost 70 percent of high school students would have tried alcohol; half will have been on illegal drugs, nearly 40% would have smoked a cigarette and more than 20% would have used a prescription drug for a non-medical purpose.

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When teens want to get high, they don’t even have to leave home; all it takes is a visit to their parents’ medicine cabinet. Teens are secretly reaching for painkillers, tranquilizers and stimulants prescribed for their parents with their parents completely unaware.

There are many reasons adolescents use these substances, including the desire for new experiences, an attempt to deal with problems or perform better in school and simple peer pressure.

Many factors influence whether an adolescent tries drugs, including the availability of drugs within the neighborhood, community and school and whether the adolescent’s friends are using them. The family environment is also important. Violence, physical or emotional abuse, mental illness or drug use in the household increases the likelihood that an adolescent will use drugs.

Finally, an adolescent’s inherited genetic vulnerability personality traits like poor impulse control or a high need for excitement, mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, or ADH;, and beliefs such as that drugs are “cool” or harmless make it more likely that an adolescent will use drugs.

The teenage years are a critical window of vulnerability to substance use disorder; because the brain is still developing and malleable – a property known as neuroplasticity – some brain areas are less mature than others.

The parts of the brain that process feelings of reward and pain-crucial drivers of drug use- are the first to mature during childhood. What remains incompletely developed during the teen years are the prefrontal cortex and its connection to other brain regions.

The prefrontal cortex is responsible for assessing situations, making sound decisions and controlling our emotions and impulses, typically this circuitry is not mature until a person is in his or her mid-20s. The adolescent brain is often likened to a car with a fully functioning gas pedal (the reward systems) but weak brakes (the prefrontal cortex).

Speaking on the issue, Mr Charles Odigie, Public Relations Officer, National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) Anambra State Command, said “Teens abuse all kinds of drugs like cocaine, marijuana (Igbo), cocaine, methamphetamine including prescription drugs like tramadol. Teens abuse rubber solution, nail polish, infact, the list is inexhaustible. This view on the increase of drug use among teens is the fact that not much money is needed nowadays to purchase drugs as they are almost everywhere.

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Professor Michael Ezenwa, National President, Nigerian Psychological Association, blamed the new media heavily for the increase in drug use among teenagers as a lot of information can be transferred using different social media platforms like whatsapp, facebook, etc, especially information concerning drugs. He also warned parents against using material gains pursuit to replace their children as this will lead them into wrong hands.

Mr John Isreal Chinaza, a final year student of psychology, mentioned some signs that show that a teenager is abusing a particular substance. These signs include withdrawal from family and friends, lack of communication, disinterest in activities previously enjoyed; physical changes like bloodshot eyes, weight loss or gain, dilated pupils, drowsiness or fatigue. He also noted that possession of paraphernalia for drug abuse such as lighters or matches, pipes, rizla rolling paper are all signs of substance abuse.

Despite popular belief, willpower alone is insufficient to overcome an addiction. Drug use has compromised the very parts of the brain that make it possible to say “no”. But recovery is never out of reach no matter how hopeless the situation seems.. According to experts, one can overcome substance abuse or addiction by taking the following steps:
The person must admit that he or she has a problem and is willing to make a change;
In the process, the person’s body has to be purged of drugs then managing withdrawal symptoms comes next.

The family should not be left out in this recovery process as family therapy can help the person identify the root causes of drug use, repair relationships and learn healthier coping skills.
Residential treatment, otherwise, known as living in a rehabilitation centre, which involves getting away from family, school, friends and addiction triggers while undergoing intensive treatment.

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As different options are considered, it should be noted that no treatment works for everyone, treatment should address more than just the drug abuse and that commitment and follow-up are keys.

War on drugs is an American term usually applied to the U.S Federal Government’s campaign of prohibition of drugs, military aid and military intervention with the stated aim being to reduce the illegal drug trade. Yearly, the U.S Government spends $51billion dollars on this war on drugs.

Fortunately, Nigeria is not left behind in this struggle against drugs. At the federal level, the Minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewole, directed the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), to ban with immediate effect, further issuance of permits for the use of codeine for cough preparations.

The Ebonyi State Government has banned the over-the-counter (OTC) sale of codeine and tramadol containing pharmaceutical products in the state. Here in Anambra State, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Anambra State Command, has through their Public Relations Officier (PRO), Mr Charles Odigie expressed their deepest gratitude to the governor, Dr Willie Obiano, who has given them unending support. Mr. Odigie informed of the promised cash prize of N500,000, which will be given by the governor to any (NDLEA) worker who uncover any methamphetamine lab in Anambra.

In an ideal world, prevention would be the obvious solution but to the dismay of the idealist, we do not live in a perfect world. The point needs to be hammered home to young people that there are dire outcomes for those who go down the path of drug abuse. Teens are advised to stay away from drug abuse as cliché as it may sound. It is better to be safe than sorry.

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