By Juliet Efalola Thomas
The abuse of drugs and alcohol by youths is a pervasive social problem in Sierra Leone. Addiction itself is a disease that affects one's brain and behaviour. Drug or alcohol addicts can't resist the urge to use the very substances that can kill them.
Drug and alcohol addiction isn't just about heroin, cocaine, other illegal drugs, or hard liquor. One can get addicted to sleep and anti-anxiety medications, nicotine, paracetamol, cough syrups and other legal substances. It is usual for Sierra Leoneans to take paracetamol or pain relief tabs for the mildest headache without prescription or second thought. People usually take those drugs because they believe it offers a faster solution to their problems, thinking they can control how often they use them. Over time, drugs can change how the brain works; those changes can last a long time, making one lose control, leading to damaging behaviours.
While trying a new drug may tempt or indulge in the satisfaction gotten from prescribed or over-the-counter medications, things can quickly spiral out of control. Most people who generally abuse substances or alcohol are said to have a family history. It is very likely for the child of a drug or alcohol addict to become one too. Also, teenage years and early adulthood are challenges in themselves. Teenagers and young adults are more likely to develop mental illness, leading to substance or alcohol abuse.
The effects of drug and alcohol abuse can appear at various levels during the abuser's life. These chemicals affect the body and brain. Some of the consequences include long-lasting and permanent health issues. They can even continue after the person has stopped taking them. Alcohol affects the liver, while drugs, regardless of how they are administered [either through injection, inhalation or ingestion], eventually affect the brain. They can change how the brain works and interfere with a person's ability to make choices. People suffering from drug and alcohol addiction tend to have a higher risk of unintentional injuries, accidents and domestic violence incidents.
Drug addicts not only suffer the effects of drugs and alcohol but their family too. Imagine how awful it can be to witness a family member struggle with addiction, the emotional, financial, legal, medical and other implications that may follow. Once peaceful and loving homes can be divided by the strain caused by drug and alcohol abuse. Conflicts become inevitable. Relatives may fear and become warier if a family member abusing substance acts with aggression or hides their problems from everyone. Marriages can end due to changes addiction may cause. Communication becomes more complex, which can be very frustrating. The reservations, anger, hostility may all have a spilling effect on the family at large.
Looking at the bigger picture, addiction to drugs and substance can also affect the whole community. Those who abuse drugs and alcohol are more likely to engage in risky behaviours and have higher chances of developing a mental disorder and incarcerated for crimes committed. Most people who become drug and alcohol addicts lose everything, dignity, money and even family, and some eventually become homeless. While some youths engaged in the illicit use of drugs and alcohol abscond from home to live in the streets where they can easily access the drugs and alcohol. Such people become a liability to society. Some end as criminals to get the drugs and alcohol they could otherwise not afford. Drug and alcohol addicts also engage in violent acts in society, which affects other citizens' lives. Drug and alcohol addiction knows no boundaries and must be considered a severe concern for society.
These are complex illnesses with far-reaching consequences for those affected by them, those close to them, and society, and we should deal with them as such.