The drug problem in Africa is extremely serious, with drug usage reported as being at twice the world norm. Over 15 per cent of our population has a drug problem.
According to research, substance abuse can simply be defined as a pattern of harmful use of any substance for mood-altering purposes that give rise to both physical and psychological dependence. Dependence results in mental, emotional, biological or physical, social and economic instability. The effects of substance abuse on an individual form the basis of its increasing effects on society. This is a major danger of substance abuse.
Studies show that people who start drinking alcohol before the age of 15 are four times more likely to become alcoholics. School-going kids who use alcohol or drugs are three times more likely to get involved in violent crimes. We need to warn the youth about drug use and encourage them to stand strong against peer and adult pressure.
Along with peer pressure, there are several other major factors that can influence the abuse of drugs among youths namely weak parental control, child abuse, imitation, emotional stress, truancy among students, the availability of the drugs and the ineffectiveness of laws on drug trafficking.
No matter how much or often substances are consumed, if drug use is causing problems in the person's life - at work, school, home or relationships - there is likely a substance abuse or addiction problem. "In many cases, there is a fine line between regular use, substance abuse and addiction.
Very few addicts are able to recognise when they have crossed that line. The good news is, however, that with the right treatment and support, the disruptive effects of drug use can be counteracted and control can be regained. The first obstacle is to recognise and admit a problem, or listen to loved ones who are often better able to see the negative effects of drug use." Young people who abuse substances often experience an array of problems including academic difficulties, health-related problems, mental problems like depression, and poor peer relationships. "Family relationships are also affected. Substance abuse by youths often results in family crises and can jeopardise many aspects of family life."
The social and economic costs related to youth substance abuse are high.
They result from the financial losses and distress suffered by alcohol and drug related crime victims, increased burdens for the support of young adults who are not able to become self-supporting, and greater demands for medical and other treatment services for these youths.
There is an undeniable link between substance abuse and delinquency. It cannot be claimed that substance abuse causes delinquent behaviour or delinquency causes alcohol and other drug use. However, the two behaviours are strongly correlated and often bring about school and family problems, involvement with negative peer groups, lack of neighbourhood social control and physical or sexual abuse.
Substance abuse is associated with both violent and income generating crimes by youths. Gangs, trafficking, prostitution and growing numbers of youth homicides are among the social and criminal justice problems in Africa are often linked to adolescent substance abuse.
How can we avert this rising drug usage in Africa?
Each individual has got to step out and help their fellow individual who has a drug problem. If each individual played a role in changing the life of a drug addict, the numbers would reduce day by day and we would have played a role in shaping the future of those who will come after us.
The writer is a Senior Six Student, Nu-Vision High School Kigali