Substance or drug misuse and abuse have become an epidemic amongst adolescents in Nigeria. Most adolescents feel the need to get 'high' to escape the harsh realities of living in the country. At the same time, some begin to abuse substances because of peer pressure. Substance abuse is the use of drugs and substances in excessive amounts harmful to the individual's body and also to those around them.
Substance use disorder (SUD) is an illness that occurs as a result of substance abuse which affects the behaviour and brain of an individual. Persons suffering SUD are typically unable to control their use of drugs or substances, and this often leads to health problems, issues at home, work and the society at large. SUD in Nigerian adolescents has become a public health problem. According to research, four out of ten adolescents in Nigeria is a drug and substance abuser. Substance use disorder is also known as drug addiction.
Most times, substance use disorder or drug addiction starts with the testing of recreational drugs by adolescents in social gatherings or events. Opioids like morphine and heroin, for instance, cause addiction faster than other drugs. Substance addiction usually starts with the use of drugs or substances in small quantities, and as time goes by the body will require larger doses to feel its effect. The more the individual uses the drug, the more challenging it becomes to stay away from it.
Symptoms of substance use disorder
Inability to stop drug use despite wanting to and knowing that continuous use can be hazardous to health
Failure to control drug use in large amounts
Development of cravings which is an intense psychological urge to take drugs or substances because the brain has become used to the presence of the substance
Development of tolerance for high doses of drugs and substances
Withdrawal from day to day activities like going to school
Neglecting physical appearance and general hygiene
Display of violence
Not eating properly
Withdrawal symptoms when an attempt to stop drugs is made
According to the American Psychiatric Association, substance use disorder is diagnosed by taking note of patterns that can be problematic using the following criteria:
● The amount of substance or drug is taken, and the period it is taken for
● Inability to control the use of substance or drugs
● The time used in obtaining the drugs or substances
● Cravings for the substance or drugs
● Inability to carry out day to day activities due to drug use
● The incessant use of the substance regardless of the social problems that occur and harm to relationships
● Withdrawal from social, recreational and occupational activities due to drug and substance use
● Using the substance in physically hazardous situations
● Continuous use of the substance despite the knowledge that it can cause physical and psychological problems
● Need for an increased amount of the drug or substance to achieve the desired effect and a reduced impact of the drug with continuous use
● Presence of withdrawal symptoms when the substance or drug isn't available
The American Psychiatric Association says that if an individual meets 2-3 criteria, the disorder is mild; if an individual meets 4-5, it is moderate. If an individual meets six or more of the requirements, it is severe.
Substance abuse has become widespread in Nigeria, especially among adolescents, and it has become an enormous threat to their general health. Parents, guardians and caregivers of adolescents should pay attention to all the possible signs and symptoms of substance use and abuse. Also educating adolescents on the effects of drug and substance abuse and even on substance use disorder should be done everywhere, in schools, at home, in churches in mosques and so on.
Written by Akinloye Folashade, a psychology graduate from the University of Lagos (Unilag) with a passion for mental health and people with special needs .A mental health advocate looking to educate people on mental health illnesses especially in children and adolescents and help stop stigmatisation against those illnesses.