Recently, a report of the first ever survey on drug use in Nigeria was released. The survey, which was supported by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the European Union, revealed that about 14.3 million Nigerians, representing about 14.4 per cent of the country’s population between ages 15 to 64, have abused drugs in the past one year.


It is not the drugs that make a drug addict, it’s the need to escape reality – Riley Blue (fictional character portrayed by Tuppence Middleton)

Addiction begins with hope that something “out there” can instantly fill up the emptiness inside – Jean Kilbourne, a public speaker.

In Nigeria, the cosmetic approach of always treating the symptoms rather than the disease has created more problems than solutions in the fight against drug abuse and addiction. The failure to deploy a sustainable holistic approach to tackling drug abuse and addiction from the source, keeps impacting our society negatively. This drug-troubled situation has remained so for long, given the deep-rooted nature of drugs and this has eaten far into the fabric of our nation today. It is therefore imperative for all concerned and well-meaning Nigerians to address this ravaging challenge in our society today by providing a lasting solution as a matter of national urgency and emergency.

A drug is a substance used to treat an illness, relieve a symptom, or modify a chemical process in the body for a specific purpose. Drugs are meant to change the state or function of the body. The misuse of, or overindulgence in drugs is called drug abuse. To abuse a drug is to use it for non-medical purposes, or to take an overdose of a prescription. The use of a drug only for the effect it produces is an abuse of that drug. Experts and clinical pharmacists have submitted that self-medication or self-prescription is a common form of drug abuse.

Drug abuse is also the use of illicit drugs, resulting in physical, mental, emotional and social impairment of the user. Legally allowed drugs may be abused through over dose or non-conformity to prescription directives.

According to the World Health Organisation, drug abuse or substance abuse is the harmful or hazardous use of psychoactive substances, including alcohol and illicit drugs. This results in a strong desire to keep taking the drug and the difficulty in controlling its use, despite harmful consequences. Recently, a report of the first ever survey on drug use in Nigeria was released. The survey, which was supported by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the European Union, revealed that about 14.3 million Nigerians, representing about 14.4 per cent of the country’s population between ages 15 to 64, have abused drugs in the past one year.

With respect to addiction treatment and rehabilitation, drugs can be classified, as regulated by the Controlled Substances Act, into five categories – narcotics, depressants, stimulants, hallucinogens and anabolic steroids. Narcotics work by inducing sleep, dulling and deadening the senses. Depressants decrease neuronal or physiological activity in the body. Stimulants act to increase and promote physiological or nervous activity in the body. Hallucinogens create a sensory perception of something that does not exist, leading to substantial subjective changes in thoughts, emotions and consciousness. Anabolics are used to treat weight loss and muscle growth.

“You don’t get over addiction by stopping using. You recover by creating a new life where it is easier to not use. If you don’t create a new life, then all the factors that brought you to your addiction will catch up with you again.”


Research reveals that the five most addictive substances in the world are: Heroin, cocaine, nicotine, barbiturates and alcohol. Mostly abused drugs among the Nigerian youth, due to the affordability, are some prescription drugs such as tramadol, codeine, antibiotics, cough syrups and laxatives. The director-general of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Mojisola Adeyeye, said drug abuse could lead to irregular heartbeat – cramp, coma and death. She identified reasons for the high prevalence of drug abuse in the country as: love of money by peddlers, unemployment, disobedience to laws of the land and the porous borders. According to her, the only way to prevent a breakdown of law and order by the addicts is for government to develop and enforce a National Prescription Policy.

Drug addiction is simply dependency on drugs, especially those which are illegally procured. Drug addiction is a disease which affects a person’s brain and behaviour, resulting in an inability to control the use of such drug. Wikipedia defines addiction as a brain disorder characterised by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli, despite adverse consequences. It has been observed that the indulgence of addicts in drugs is their way of shying away from the harsh and unfair realities of life.

It is established that the main reason people get addicted to drugs or alcohol is to escape reality, but the truth is, the absence of feelings is no replacement for reality – as the problems still remain. Addicts do not choose to get addicted, they only choose to deny their pains momentarily. Numbing that pain temporarily will make it worse when it is eventually felt. The surging demand for illicit drugs has become alarming, given their accessibility and availability on the streets and in most towns in Nigeria.

According to HealthyPlace.com, “You don’t get over addiction by stopping using. You recover by creating a new life where it is easier to not use. If you don’t create a new life, then all the factors that brought you to your addiction will catch up with you again.” Addicts must take deliberate, concerted and uneasy steps to disabuse and condition their minds to break free from the self-prison of addiction.

It is also very important to caution some Nigerian celebrities, musicians in particular, who flaunt their shameless and irresponsible lifestyles through the displays of their drug-use in their songs. The videos of such songs and the lyrics encourage living on hard drugs, with these songs tending to put the use of hard drugs in good light.


Dealers and distributors of illicit drugs are to be treated as criminals, while the users, being the addicts, are the victims. The government should establish more drug addict treatment facilities, which will cater for the reorientation, treatment and rehabilitation of addicts in the society.

With prevention and treatment techniques, drug addiction is controllable, treatable and reversible. Societal stigmas toward drug addicts must be stopped. Addicts undergoing rehabilitation should be lovingly embraced by the society to avoid discrimination, feelings of guilt, shame, rejection and possible relapse.

It is also very important to caution some Nigerian celebrities, musicians in particular, who flaunt their shameless and irresponsible lifestyles through the displays of their drug-use in their songs. The videos of such songs and the lyrics encourage living on hard drugs, with these songs tending to put the use of hard drugs in good light. The songs provide encouragement to drug addicts. Such musicians remain bad examples for impressionable young ones in the society who may choose to tread the same path.

There must be collaboration of all segments of the society to address this drug challenge. Parents, guardians, schools, government, health care providers, non-governmental organisations, pharmaceutical industries and media houses have huge roles to play together in order to curb the menace of drug abuse. When all hands are on deck, this huge challenge of drug addiction and abuse in the country becomes surmountable.

Kayode Ojewale writes in via kayodeojewale@gmail.com