Drug abuse includes the use of any drug or medication for recreational purposes, or to feel good, help with sleep e.t.c. They may have been originally prescribed drugs (medications) for pain, such as following accidents with serious injuries such as Tramadol. They may also be illegal drugs such as cannabis (indian hemp) or cocaine and heroin. Alcohol is also a drug, albeit a socially acceptable one, but it can also be abused with serious consequences.
By their action, all these drugs have something in common: they act on the brain and cause sedation, as well as changes in the mood, thinking or behavior of the individual. It may also cause relaxation and a feeling of calmness, or block the sensation of pain or tiredness. This latter effect is often the reason why drug use is popular among menial labourers and some road transport workers who toil from morning till evening – come rain or shine.
Common fallacies about drug abuse
- “I am in control and I know what I am doing. I am not crazy and I only take small quantities”.
- “It is not harmful when used in moderation”
- “You need to be taking hard drugs like cocaine and heroin to become an addict”.
- “Only foolish people and street thugs who cannot regulate themselves end up having problems with alcohol or any other drug”.
- “I only take it when I have difficulties with sleeping, and it is not all the time”.
The problem with these fallacies is that they help is feel good and we console ourselves that we don’t have any problem, so we can continue just like always. However, the danger is that our body gradually becomes used to the drug and if the habit is sustained, it will get to a stage where we will then find it very difficult to do anything without taking the drug. This is the stage where addiction sets in.
The Stages of Substance Use
- More frequent use
- Preoccupation with substance abuse
Illustration of these stages with the story of Funke
- Funke was a brilliant 21-year-old law student, but her room-mates always teased her for refusing to drink alcohol.
- After 3 months, she eventually decided to try it. She took a few sips and felt calm and happy without any worries, so she thought it was really good. She then took some more and enjoyed it. (Experimentation/initiation stage)
- Thereafter, she started taking a bottle every day; then graduated to taking 3 or 4 bottles daily. It became the first thing she will take in the morning and the last thing she takes at night. (Stages of more frequent use and pre-occupation with use)
- She started missing classes, as most mornings, she wakes up late and suffers from a hangover with terrible headaches.
- Her academic performance started deteriorating and she had to spend 2 extra sessions in school. Her popular nickname became “Funke Shayo” (Funke the drunkard), but she just could not do without alcohol anymore. (Stage of Dependence or addiction to alcohol).
- After seven years in U.I, she fell ill, with severe abdominal swelling, pains and yellowish discolouration of the eyes. She was diagnosed as having liver failure in UCH. She needed about N10 million naira to have liver transplant operation done – with no guarantees that it will be a successful procedure. If only she had not started by experimenting with alcohol use.
While the common argument is that I know someone, who has been doing or taking drugs for several years and nothing has happened to that person; the real question is, do you want to gamble with your own life? Our bodies are different and our ability to tolerate different drugs also vary. However, what is not in doubt is that drug abuse frequently results in serious complications – including death from overdose.
Once addiction sets in, it is extremely difficult to break the habit – even in the best of facilities abroad. For example, several celebrities in Europe and America with drug abuse problems are usually in and out of rehabilitation centres like a revolving door. And this pattern persists until some of them die from drug overdose. Famous but unfortunate examples abound, such as Michael Jackson who started from taking medications purportedly to help him sleep better until he started taking different combinations in high dosed until he died from drug overdose. Other examples include Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston e.t.c. In Nigeria, we are fortunate that the rain maker, our very own mega super star of the 90s, Majek Fashek survived his self-confessed challenges and is doing well with rehabilitation at the moment.
Conclusion: Let us all take heed and share the message to our children and loved ones that: Prevention is always better than seeking for cure – particularly with respect to drug abuse.
Dr Jibril Abdulmalik
Tribune Article for the column “Your Mental Health & You”
Thursday, 26th January 2023