12 May 2018

Ethiopia: Substance Addictions Add to Socio-Economic Woes

opinion

Substance abuse is becoming normalised in Ethiopia. The issue has been a major concern for the country at large. Hospitals have begun equipping themselves with wards that attend to patients who come with addiction problems, and there are numerous counselling programs dedicated to creating awareness about drugs.

Alcohol, khat, cannabis and tobacco are being frequently used in Ethiopia. Abuse of alcohol starts with traditional habits that assume local drinks are harmless, even to young children. Children in rural towns are mostly at risk of starting to drink at a relatively young age. As part of the cultural and religious rituals, local alcoholic drinks such as tella, tej and araqi - which have four percent, 11pc and 45pc alcohol content, respectively - propagate heavy drinking among society.

In the urban towns, widely promoted and marketed alcoholic drinks such as beer and wine have become prevalent. It has become a norm to finish the day intoxicated. Such activities, especially to young people, leads to substance abuse of stimulants, such as khat.

Studies show that drug and alcohol abuse are linked to poverty. People use such substances to cope with stress associated with poverty. Lack of proper parental support systems, risk awareness, health care and community organisations leads to alternative stress coping mechanisms.

In Africa, drugs and substance abuse have a long history. Khat is prevalent in the continent and the Middle East but mainly consumed in nations such as Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya and Yemen.

From high schools and colleges to universities, youth have become major customers. It is not unfamiliar to see underage people smoking a cigarette or consuming alcohol. The working class has developed a habit of daily drug consumption, perceiving substance use as entertainment. Employees that check in at work while intoxicated with alcohol or khat, and their productivity hampered, is not unheard of.

Peer pressure, boredom, curiosity, family habit and idleness are linked to drug and substance abuse.

I am convinced that awareness of the negative economic and health impact of substances enabled me to stay sober while witnessing peers lose promising futures. It is thus not too naïve to think that open discussions in the family, schools and community can go a long way to curbing this trend.

Drug abuse can have a devastating impact on health, family and the society. The consequence leads to distorted psychological, physical and mental wellbeing of the user. From decreased self-esteem to social isolation to serious physical injuries, drugs and alcohol are major health hazards. Though the immediate effects here can be remedied when substance abuse stops, the social and physical trauma can be permanent.

Addiction is recognised as a disease because users cannot easily withdraw from using even after experiencing adverse effects. It leads to decreased academic and professional performance, increased risk of contracting diseases and psychiatric disorders such as exhaustion, hopelessness and insomnia. Drug abuse inflicts damage on public health and safety. Research shows that globally there were about 190 million substance abusers; out of these, around 40 million were linked to serious illnesses each year.

Beyond health damages, people under the influence of drugs also pose major safety risks and costs. Driving under the influence has ended up causing accidents, harming individuals and damaging property. And drug abuse incurs costs as users resort to excessive methods to purchase the material or in seeking treatment. The health-care costs, illnesses and mortality costs the country not just cash but human resources.

The severity of the problem demands immediate and effective action from the government and the society to dedicate resources to prevention, education and interventions, including treatment and rehabilitation. Although it would be resource-intensive, studies have shown that for every one dollar spent, proper prevention mechanism can save countries up to ten dollars in subsequent costs. Shaming victims and isolating them had done nothing but aggravate the dangerous trend.

Specific and consistent national abuse prevention programs can create informed communities and families. It will establish and provide society with the skills to pass on and to make healthy choices and decisions. Community-based approaches to prevention and helping the victims could be useful to avoid substance dependence.

Unlike what is seen in practice, recovery from drug addiction requires support from family, friends and the community. It should also include job creation as well as relapse prevention, family education, peer-to-peer services and coaching. The unified prevention and treatment initiative can provide the right solution for lasting recovery, preventing further damage. Solutions are contagious. It improves not only individuals but others too.

Eden Is Founder and CEO of Yada Technology PLC. She Has Studied Law and International Economic Law. She Can Be Reached At Edensah2000@gmail.com.

Ethiopia

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