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Alcohol and substance abuse among adolescents

By Stanslous Ngosa

Among the devastating challenges adolescents face is the use of drugs and alcohol. It is not uncommon to hear that pupils have been suspended from school because of being in possession of or abusing alcohol or drugs. 

Ministry of Health Assistant Director Adolescents Health Matilda Simpungwe explains that street kids who spend most of their time on selected road sides in Zambia form part of adolescents with special needs. The children sniff intoxicating substances that include petrol, tar and glue to fight off hunger, the cold and worry.

Even though most adolescents just experiment with drugs such as cannabis, marijuana, cocain, inhalants and medicines like valium (diazepam) and artane to attain a relaxing high, sharper focus and heightened attention, euphoria and cloudy thinking, some develop addiction.

As opposed to drugs Adolescents have easy access to alcohol or spirits (“Juntas”) as these are readily available in make-shift-stores and markets. Traders sell alcohol to young people without consideration for prescribed age limit. Adolescents abuse alcohol in homes, the community and on school premises sometimes in full view of grown-ups. There is a serious growing concern that the community is no longer participating in ‘bringing up of children’ as was the case in the past owing to the fact that parents are very defensive regarding any negative reports about their children’s misbehavior. Furthermore, some young people are very disrespectful to grown-ups who try to correct them when they are in error.

Abuse of drugs and alcohol has the potential to change everything from the function of your body to your social behaviour. Changes can include altered brain chemistry, health complications, susceptibility to infections which stem from weakened immune system, legal issues, financial problems, accidental injuries, and even death.

Abnormal heart rates and heart attacks, disturbance of the growth of bones and severe muscle cramping and general weakness are some health impacts of alcohol and substance abuse. Cannabis for instance, significantly reduces lung functions and increases abusers chance of contracting

respiratory infections such as bronchitis, asthmatic like conditions, cough, hoarseness of voice and dry throat. The glue that street kid sniff damages the children’s livers, lungs and brains. Generally, kidney and liver damage occur when drugs are used over a long period of time.

Abusers of drugs are also more likely to engage in unprotected sex, and to have sex with strangers which increases the chances of contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and teen pregnancy among.

Drug abuse has also been observed to negatively affect the memory of adolescents who exhibit poor academic performance and challenges in memorizing things. If left unchecked, the problem of drug abuse may deteriorate as a person grows older.

Addicted adolescents and street kids show anti-social tendencies such as difficult relating with peers, rebellion, stealing and violence.

Parents and guardians should therefore be proactive and have an open relationship with their children to detect warning signs of drug abuse. Any changes in behavior or mannerism, like over-sleeping, withdrawal from family or friends, isolation, hyperactivity, irritability, over-eating, weight loss, poor hygiene, tremors or shakes should raise the alarm. Parents and guardians should talk to their children about the dangers of alcohol and other harmful substances and seek medical help for those who are afflicted.

The Ministries of Health and General Education are working with the Drug Enforcement Commission to sensitize young people on dangers of substance abuse although efforts need to be heightened and should include prevention of and response to street kids’ addiction. The Ministry of General Education has also strengthened education on substance abuse through integration of comprehensive sexuality education in the school curriculum. Efforts by the local authority to enforce public health laws on the sale of alcohol are aimed at safeguarding adolescents’ health and should be complemented by the public.

Statistics from Chainama Hospital reveal that 42% of admissions are related to alcohol and substance abuse.

Treatment of addiction is complex and involves detoxication, behavioral counselling and family therapy to improve family function and support system. Counselling and psycho-therapy services are available in all provincial general hospitals and selected private institutions for addicted adolescents to access. The drug Enforcement Commission (DEC)provides drug counselling services through its

National Education Campaign Division (NECD) offices. The Commission networks with health institutions such as Chainama Hospital (Lusaka), provincial General Hospitals and other organisations in the provision of drug dependence treatment.

Like in other conditions alcohol and drug dependence treatment works well when treatment is

initiated early. The co-morbidity in drug dependence especially where the underlying problem is mental illness, treatment approach will be to manage the underlying problem. Early detection of drug abuse and seeking of appropriate intervention will contribute significantly to minimizing of harm, prevention of complications and promotion of recovery in drug dependence conditions. There is therefore, need for community participation in drug abuse, prevention activities to reduce the incidences of addiction.

The Author is Ministry of Health Head-Media Relations

For comments contact: Communication and External Relations Unit -MoH. Mobile: +260977694310, +26077835660

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