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Drug Abuse Among Youths in Africa

Drug Abuse Among Youths in Africa 


Apart from cannabis abuse in northern and southern Africa and khat chewing in north-eastern Africa, the history of drug abuse in Africa is relatively short. The abuse of drugs in Africa is nevertheless escalating rapidly from cannabis abuse to the more dangerous drugs and from limited groups of drug users to a wider range of people abusing drugs. The most common and available drug of abuse is still cannabis, which is known to be a contributing factor to the occurrence of a schizophrenic-like psychosis. The trafficking in and abuse of cocaine and heroin are the most recent developments in some African countries that had had no previous experience with these drugs. Efforts should be made to design and implement drug abuse assessment programmes to determine the real magnitude and characteristics of the problem and to monitor its trends. A lack of funds and a shortage of adequately trained personnel have made it difficult to implement drug abuse control programmes. In addition to formal drug control involving the implementation of legislation, there is an informal system of drug abuse control operating through the family, church, school, neighbourhood and work environment, as well as healthy recreational activities. It is suggested that efforts in African countries should be directed towards strengthening not only the formal drug control system but also informal control in order to compensate for the insufficient funds and the shortage of personnel trained in implementing formal drug control measures. It is very likely that the drug problems in African countries will worsen in future unless more effective measures are implemented to arrest the current situation.
Recent studies in Africa indicate a high prevalence of substance use among young people when compared to the general population, with associated physical and psychosocial problems such as fighting, vandalism, theft, engaging in unprotected sex, personal injury, medical problems and impaired relationships with family and friends.

Health and illness are determined by complex interactions between social and economic factors, the physical environment and individual behaviour. Determinants are a range of factors that influence substance use among individuals or populations. To our knowledge, there is no systematic review that provides an accurate understanding of the determinants of adolescent substance use in Africa. Broadly speaking family, social networks and peer pressure are key influencers of substance abuse among adolescents. For example, several African studies indicate having family or friends who use substances is a key risk factor. Childhood trauma and adverse experience like physical, emotional and sexual abuse is another significant risk factor for substance use. Other demographic and socioeconomic risk factors have included being male, of younger age, lower education grades, adolescents from divorced parents, and unemployed or fully employed mothers in and private school attendance. Some differences have been noted between urban and rural adolescent populations. For urban areas in Nigeria, having friends who use substances and a mother with tertiary education are risk factors whilst parental disapproval of substance use is a protective factor. Adolescent disapproval of adult substance use is a protective factor in rural areas.

Substance use among adolescents is a growing major public health concern in Africa. Unfortunately, this phenomenon has not been adequately documented across many settings in the continent. Knowledge on the true extent and determinants of adolescent substance use in Africa is limited, perhaps due to socioenvironmental factors, competing health priorities and limited treatment options . Moreover, little is known about the relationship between determinants of adolescent substance use in Africa. This is despite the increasing prevalence and increased risks of severe health, economic and social problems due to substance use. Even with the increased need for substance use programmes and policies in Africa highlighted in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), there is no consolidated evidence about the social contexts of substance use among adolescents in Africa. Harmful adolescent substance use is not due to any single cause, but a rather complex interaction of risk and protective factors mainly shared with other problematic behaviours like school non-attendance or violence. A conceptual framework for determinants of substance use illustrates this multilevel complexity, by outlining how substance misuse is influenced by an individual’s development, experiences and health, as well as how they interact with their family, their community environment and broader societal-level factors like culture, policy and socioeconomic status . Effectively tackling substance use among young people in Africa where negative outcomes and a complexity of unconventional determining factors for substance use are more common would bring great benefit to human health.

Existing reviews do not provide a detailed holistic and regional understanding of the determinants of substance use among adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa. As previously stated, substance use among adolescents can lead to an increased risk of transmission of sexually transmitted infections, vehicular fatalities, juvenile delinquency and other problems associated with physical and mental health. Adolescents’ increased susceptibility to involvement in substance use can lead to reduced decision-making ability and increased long-term effects of drugs and alcohol.

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