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Drug abuse in northern Nigeria: Challenges and way forward

Drug abuse in northern Nigeria Challenges and way forward
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As a country that brags about its morality and takes pride in cultural and religious practices, Nigeria has a lot of vices on its fingers. Drug abuse is a leading problem and one of the most dangerous sources of destruction for the youths, especially the northern youths. Drug abuse leads to a lot of terrible things like job loss, mental health problems and in many cases dysfunctional relationship with those around them. 

In most cases, people that abuse drugs use legal drugs in ridiculous dosages thereby leading to a change in mood and behaviour and many people claimed that at that moment they are able to forget their problems. But drug abuse doesn’t just end here, some forms of drug abuse such as tobacco and alcohol abuse have been so normalized that a lot of people are not even aware that they count as drug abuse. It is normal to see both younger and older persons taking alcohol in unhealthy doses in the name of recreation or fun.

Shisha has become one of the harmful substances that have been normalized especially by the youth, despite the fact that it is said to cause heart diseases, cancer, respiratory diseases and problems during pregnancy.

According to Wikipedia, drug abuse is a ‘patterned use of a drug in which the user consumes the substance in amounts or with methods which are harmful to themselves and to others‘. Drug abused in Nigeria ranks from pharmaceutical drugs to other natural alternatives for the same purpose. People take ridiculous things in order to get high, from fermented natural drinks to other alternatives, and it is shocking to discover what people are willing to do in order to get high.

Questions have been asked about how illegal drugs find their way into the hands of the youths, and discoveries were made that there are drug peddlers who push drugs to kids in school, from secondary schools to higher institutions, to the big dogs who smuggle these harmful substances into the country to those capitalistic humans who spend precious time to create these terrible substances. It’s shocking that containers of hard drugs are being smuggled into this country and up till now, we have been unable to pinpoint who these people are and how they manage to smuggle in these harmful substances all the time. 

Despite the fact that we have drug regulating agencies in Nigeria, this menace is not even close to ending and neither it is gender-specific or ethnic-aligned. However, there appears to be a higher rate of drug abuse in northern Nigeria. And unfortunately, this epidemic is being treated as a character flaw; people stay away and become harsh and judgmental towards victims instead of trying to reach out a helping hand. And many parents, due to shame and placing way too much value on how society sees them, prefer to sweep this under the rug or leave the kids to their own fate.

We have cases of parents sending children out of the house when they discover that they deal with drug addiction instead of helping the kids and making sure that they do everything necessary to get them the help they need.

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And this brings me back to this, most parents or people generally especially in uptight societies do not place too much emphasis on morality and customs because they truly care about such things, more often than not, they just care about public image and how their neighbours view them. That’s why they find it easy to abandon a child just because he is dealing with addiction. 

And we have another terrible habit of tying people down to their pasts even when we clearly see that they are trying to change or they have the will for it. Instead of encouraging them, we mock them for trying to be better and that leaves the impression that a better life is not meant for the likes of them and make them slip back into the hole they were trying to climb out from. And sometimes, even years after they change, we still keep reminding them of who they used to be while forgetting that it takes a lot to even ask for help or try to change in the first place. We keep forgetting that these people are survivors and need our love and support, not mockery and disrespect.

The truth is, we are all guilty of this. I know there are countless times that I had stayed away from people just because I learnt that they have a drug problem. Imagine the change we would have been able to effect if instead of judging and staying away, we reach out a helping hand. But I must also add that sometimes when you are unsure of what to do, it is better to not do anything at all, because sometimes in trying to help, we end up making things worse for the person. The best thing to do when you are unsure of what to do is to get the person help from the appropriate authority.

And a problem has never disappeared because it is being ignored. We northerners usually feel much better, when we live in our bubble and brag about our morality and religiousness, this is perhaps a Nigerian or even a universal problem. Instead of dealing with problems head-on, we prefer to pretend it doesn’t exist and that is doing more harm than good and we honestly need to stop being so hypocritical and handle our issues without the fear of what people may think.

Sometime last year, the country took steps to ban codeine and as much as that is a significant step. We will never be able to curb such problems until we find the root of the problem and until we honestly ask ourselves what it is that is pushing people towards this drug and we figure out a way to cut out that problem. People just don’t wake up on a bright Saturday morning and decide that they want to abuse drugs despite knowing the consequences. More often than not, people choose to use drugs despite knowing that because they believe that they have no other alternative to deal with the pain, and forgetting is the only way and most times drug abusers genuinely believe they can keep it under control.

And sometimes, people start abusing drugs out of curiosity; they want to know what it feels like to be high and unknown to them, they can’t control it as they thought earlier. But the fact remains that whatever the reason is, we need to know what it is in order to stop drug abuse in our societies. If we keep banning hard drugs, people will just find cheaper and better alternatives to drug abuse and it will keep continuing because no one took time to know why. 

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I know that talking about these things is a lot way easier than actually enacting them, and we need the will, the right people and the right frame of mind to do that and drug abusers may not even be willing to contribute. But we will never know the outcome unless we try and only in talking can we push ourselves to try.

Another thing that is not helping drug abuse in Nigeria is the stigma attached to it. Instead of helping those abusing drugs, we focus more on shaming them, and that pushes them further into it. Drug abuse in Nigerian, especially northern Nigeria is something we must take seriously as a people.

Like every other issue, we Nigerians tend to ignore the root cause. I have heard people say it’s embarrassing that drug abuse has extended to girls and married women as if by virtue of being a girl or a married woman their humanity and ability to be victims of this epidemic disappears. The high rate of abuse amongst married women should drag our attention that perhaps there is something wrong with marriages and honestly this shouldn’t even come as a surprise because the way our society views marriage is usually harmful to women. Women are being forced to stay in abusive relationships or in relationships with cheating husbands because ‘men will be men and all men cheat‘. And in so many cases family members do not help matters at all and neither do religious leaders, in fact, many of them make it worse with their advice on ‘patience’, ‘endurance’ and ‘submission’.

Maybe, a lot of women who abuse drugs have nowhere to turn and they, in turn, try to find solutions to their problems and unfortunately, they pick the wrong way to cope. So, they can’t entirely take the blame considering, we never give them anything to fall back to. It is not shameful that married women or young girls are abusing drugs. It is shameful that we as a society has made them believe that drug is the only way to cope and survive because we never listened to them and we never gave them a solution that hasn’t been harmful to their mental and physical health in the long run.

And we need to stop marrying off our addict sons and daughters in an attempt to stop drug addiction. Marriage is not a cure for drug addiction and the only thing we succeed in doing is ruining their lives and the lives of those they eventually marry.

The issue of the high rate of drug abuse in teenagers usually always boils down to the issues they face at home. as Nigerians, we usually get defensive when others talk about bad parenting because ‘our parents did their best and gave us their all‘, and we keep forgetting that not all parents do that and not all parents are good parents or make sacrifices for their kids. That some carry all the weight of their past, with their unresolved anger, resentment and baggage and dump it on their kids and no one provides avenues for these kids to help them or teach them the proper way to cope with issues.

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We really need to do better when it comes to our teenagers, we keep dismissing their feelings and never give them platforms to express themselves because we believe that they do not understand life yet and we keep saying what problems can they possibly have at that age while forgetting that a lot of mental health issues take roots in teenage. Teenage is a very troubling age and we need to offer our teenagers all the help we can. We need to start listening to them. Just because they don’t deal with bills and other adult issues does not mean they don’t have problems or their problems are not valid. It’s like we all forget what being a teenager is, the moment we pass that stage.

Addiction is not a choice, addiction is a disease and we keep treating it like a character flaw and that is why no banning of codeine can help us until we look at these problems and we study their root cause and try to find solutions that do not involve abusing and shaming drug addicts. 
The American Medical Association and the American Society of Addiction Medicine defined addiction as a disease and is caused by behavioural, biological and environmental factors. It is said that about 25%-50% of people with substance abuse issues have serious chronic disorders and this disorder requires treatment, monitoring and also support in order to help the person recover.

Even those with the will power to change cannot really affect that change because at a point the brain can be changed by addiction which in turn impair the power of choice and will power. Yes, people make a choice on whether or not to start abusing drugs, but eventually, they can’t control how the body reacts to these drugs, and without the support of loved ones, even the will to change might not be enough.

Genetics also play a very big role in drug addiction. Substance abuse can run in families. Your family history can determine just how vulnerable you are to drug abuse. Even though scientist cannot pinpoint a single genetic change in people that leads to addiction, addiction related genes have been discovered by studying mice in laboratories. That is why two people might start abusing drugs at the same time and one will have the worst addiction issue than the other. Some people get their lives ruined by addiction while others are able to manage their lives while dealing with it. We all react to things differently and that’s something we have to take into consideration while dealing with issues relating to addiction.

We need more rehabilitation centres with trained personnel who will help victims without abusing them and most importantly, we really need to change the way we view things and stop being hypocritical by hiding in our bubbles, bragging about it and ignoring the world burning around us.

Hauwa Saleh

Hauwa Saleh

Find me bleeding on the pages of a book.View Author posts

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