In 2004, the National Agency for the campaign Against Drug Abuse(NACADA) carried out a national survey of alcohol and drug use among young people aged 10 to 24 in Kenya. The results revealed that the most common substances used by young people were alcohol, tobacco, marijuana (bhang/cannabis sativa) miraa (khat, a plant used as a narcotic), and inhalants such as glue. Among all these marijuana or bhang is the only illegal drug. The survey found that substance abuse was much higher among out of school youth than among students. However, this large disparity may be partly due to students under reporting the extent of their substance abuse.
Every day I encounter first hand young people abusing drugs in school, on the streets and even some in the comfort of their homes, and it is a bit disturbing because I remember at a young age my friends and i would sit around and swear never to abuse drugs and any of our classmates who admitted to smoking were looked at as outcasts, now it is the complete opposite, if you don’t smoke or drink alcohol you are seen as “uncool” especially among students in secondary schools and universities and mostly by those who come from rich or middle class families. As has been seen elsewhere around the world young people in Kenya are dramatically influenced by their friends’ substance use, however my main focus for now is to discuss drug abuse in the slum areas.
According to a study by APHRC done in 2002 the most common drugs used by people who live in slum areasare cigarettes (65%), marijuana (52%), glue (14%) and petrol (11%), There are many reasons that can drive a young adult living in the slum areas to drink or engage in drug abuse, the most probable cause is unemployment, lack of jobs is a big problem in Kenya and especially among people living in slum areas, as we all know an idle mind is the devils workshop. Young people will use drugs just to pass time and kill boredom not knowing that excessive use leads to addiction and dependency on the drugs they use.Lack of a stable income drives young people to use drugs to escape reality, some will even engage in the business of selling drugs just to make a living.Peer pressure is also a major cause of drug abuse especially to those who complete school and start mingling with those who were already done with school and those who never went to school due to lack of jobs or school fees to further their education; they are encouraged to engage in drug use since there are no job. Due to poverty and poor living standards in slums most parents feel the need to use drugs and alcohol to reduce stress thus they do not provide parental guidance to their children who assume that it’s okay to take drugs since their parents do it too. When you live in a surrounding where everyone smokes and drinks you grow up doing the same things without even thinking about it.
In an environment crowded by unemployed people and poor living conditions a lot of evil arises, for example theft, rape and domestic violence thus victims will turn to drinking and drugging as a way to numb the pain, Rape and abuse can cause depression and anxiety to a young mind and those who suffer from this conditions like the effects that drugs and drinking have on their minds, they may find that these substances temporarily lift their spirits. These are a few causes of drug abuse, whatever the cause though; the path of drinking and doing drugs can take a very nasty turn if it gets out of control. Substance abuse is causally related to unintended injury, suicide, and interpersonal violence, unplanned sexual intercourse which increases the risk of unwanted pregnancy, STDs and HIV& AIDS.
This shows that drug abuse is a reality; the implication is that with this threat hanging over it, the future of the society is uncertain and therefore something must be done urgently to address the issue. Change can only be attained if all the parties concerned have seen its need and have made an informed decision to effect it.
Written by Lillian Mwai, she is a student majoring in Co-operative Business Administration at the Co-operative College University of Kenya. She is also involved in spreading drug abuse and HIV & AIDS awareness in Kibera slums.