Dr Taiwo Sheikh, a Psychiatrist and Chief Executive Officer/Medical Director, Federal Neuro- Psychiatric Hospital, Kaduna, in this interview speaks about the spike in drug abuse and addiction among youths, particularly girls in Northern Nigeria.
By Tajudeen Suleiman
We are looking at the abuse of illicit drugs among women.
[junkie-alert style=”grey”] When you say illicit, it means a drug that is being used against the law and what it is made for. It is more of a legal and social term. We in medical field do not use the term illicit. We rather use the term abuse of drug or substance or addiction to the substance or to the drug. But misuse does not carry legal connotation. Illicit means there is a law and the individual can be sanctioned. [/junkie-alert]
What can abuse of drug do to the human beings?
[junkie-alert style=”grey”]First let’s have a clear perspective on the issue. We realise that talking about drug narrows our understanding. To the layman, drug means tablet or capsules etc. But we in medical field know that when we talk of drug it goes beyond medicinal compound that you take. It also includes alcohol, cigarettes and even those not packaged like those who sniff latrine or waste fumes.
When we say substances abuse or drug abuse, we’re referring to a mental condition in which because of the way and manner the person is using the substance, it has resulted into loss of some function. And the person is not able to do things the way they used to do. Then we say the person is suffering from significant loss of function, which may be physical activities, movement, and general wellbeing.
Or it could be social activities – your interaction with people. Or it could be psychological; your ability to comprehend what is happening, your thoughts, what you say, your degree of happiness, degree of sadness, worry or fear.
So, where there is some loss of function in the person, you say the person is suffering from substance abuse. He has taken the substance to a degree to which he is not able to function well. In medical language we say there is significant impairment-the individual is impaired. So its now a sickness.
That is what we mean by abuse. It has become a condition that requires attention, in the sense that the person may not necessarily be hospitalised, but something needs to be done. The individual needs help.[/junkie-alert]
Does anybody in the condition you have described stand a chance of being reformed?
[junkie-alert style=”grey”]Yes. Definitely. Abuse is a very mild form of the kind of condition that could come as a result of illicit use of drugs and substances, and if you address it well, the individual can overcome it. There are more serious conditions that can come. Addiction is one of the more serious conditions that can result from the use of substances.
Some of these drugs exert their influence on the brain. So we call them psychoactive substances. So the use of such psychoactive substances could also lead to addiction. When we say someone is suffering from addiction, it is a very serious condition in the sense that the individual, because of the excessive and lack of control in the use of such substance, cannot function normally and effectively without the substance.
So it has become a situation where the user is no longer using the drug or substance to enjoy, but using it to live, to survive. That is addiction. He cannot even sit calm without the substance. He will start manifesting certain behaviours because of the lack of substance in his body. And once he takes the substance, the behaviour or symptoms will disappear.
You can now understand the extent the person will go when his body needs the substance. He will do anything to get the substance. This is a very severe form. Abuse is milder, but it is also a condition that requires attention. Addiction is a more serious condition.[/junkie-alert]
We have seen some young men and women with mental problems and people attribute to drug abuse. Can addiction lead to madness?
[junkie-alert style=”grey”] If you’re addicted and the drug or substance is not available, it means you will not be normal. You will start craving, wanting it, and your body will be responding. And that will now make you exhibit behaviours that would be considered abnormal in the society.
Not only that, some of the substances even changes the working of your brain. Addiction itself has changed the working of your brain, but it will further change the working of your brain to start experiencing things that are not there; to start hallucinating. You hear what is not there; you see what is not there and it will change your belief system and thinking process. It will change the way you link your thoughts together.
What would you call such a person? Of course you will say the person is mad. In medical field, we call it psychotic disorder.
There are stages in drug abuse and addiction that can manifest with psychosis (madness). And there are so many other conditions that could manifest as a result of addiction, which ranges from anxiety to depression, deliberate self-harm or suicide. Socially it could lead to poverty, loss of jobs diseases of the kidney, eye, nervous system, hearing loss and so on. Madness is one of them.[/junkie-alert]
From your experience, what are the causes of drug or substance addiction?
[junkie-alert style=”grey”] There must be interplay of these three: the drug must be available, the person and a conducive environment (challenges of living). These three will deliver drug addiction. Individuals also inherit certain tendencies from parents. You can inherit the propensity to develop the problem if some conditions are fulfilled. Your constitution is also important – your system, brain etc can also make you prone to addiction.[/junkie-alert]
How often do you get cases of victims of drug or substance addiction?
[junkie-alert style=”grey”]Drug addiction is quite common nowadays. We see cases every day, mostly young people-men and women. We see from mild cases to most severe cases. Many parents or relations will not bring their people when it is very early until it is late. Most of the cases that we see are the ones that have gotten out of hand. People don’t seem to appreciate that the earlier you bring them the better. They will be struggling to manage them at home, and by the time they come here it has become very serious. But we’re still able to deal with it. We’re one of the best centres in this country today to handle drug cases. There is virtually no day that one or two people will not come for drug addiction. They come from different parts of the North central and some states in the North west. People come here from other places too.[/junkie-alert]
What are the chances of complete rehabilitation for addicts?
[junkie-alert style=”grey”] The chances are bright if you come early enough. The earlier you come the brighter the chances … If you have good social support, a family that is ready to support you. Also, if you have a job that can keep you occupied, and you’re not in the industry of the drug. The way and manner you adhere to doctor’s advice will also determine whether you come out of it. Then the complications you have developed. Those who have fewer complications are likely to overcome it faster. We also know that the younger you are the better the outcome. Patients have to pay for food, drugs and number of tests. Bed is just N100 per day. Cost ranges between N3,000 to N28,000 depending on your condition.[/junkie-alert]
How did you come to the conclusion that there is an increase in the number of women who abuse drugs?
[junkie-alert style=”grey”]Its empirical, it is based on what we do and on our experience. Ten years ago, for every four or five men, we see one woman. But today, for every four or five men we see four women. That shows a trend that suggests increase in the number of women that come with substance abuse problems … specially now that the type of substance people abuse is also changing. Twenty years ago, we didn’t talk about things that people buy from the chemist and take home. Today, that is what we’re struggling with – cough mixtures. And that is the one women abuse most.[/junkie-alert]
Of course we have women taking alcohol and all that, but the cough mixture has now come. Cough mixture is readily available and it can change the working of the brain and give you some kind of feeling.
[junkie-alert style=”grey”] And there is no law that regulates that. They conceal it in bottles of soft drinks. They go to parties with it. You find it under their beds and inside their bags. And that is also responsible for the increase in the number of women we’re seeing with this particular problem.[/junkie-alert]
You know in this part of the country, its not easy for a woman to go to a beer parlour and drink bear or even buy and take home. But the cough mixture is easier.
[junkie-alert style=”grey”]This is one of the things that is responsible for the surge in gender representation of drug abuse in this part of the world today. It is increasing by the day.[/junkie-alert]