Article by Chiedza Bayela Mashoko and Doyle Chibi

Drug and substance abuse (DSA) is a very common phenomenon in many societies, even in our own it has become a problematic area. It has become a normal occurrence to find young Zimbabweans (11-24 years) engaged in the abuse of one substance or another. The commonly abused drugs in Zimbabwe are Cannabis, Cough mixtures that contain codeine such as BronCleer and Histallix, ARV’s, tobacco products, high alcohol content liquors such as Zed and blue diamond etc. A person who has never been addicted may have difficulty in understanding Drug and Substance Abuse (DSA), why someone would engage in a destructive behaviour?

Experimenting: For many young people drug and substance abuse starts primarily as just experimenting. Young people at this age experiment with different things and unfortunately also at times in drugs. The desire to want to find out how drugs such as alcohol and substances makes them feel and also because friends are also taking drugs has inadvertently led many to drug abuse. Most people who drink started in their teens and have been unable to stop. This is because most narcotics are addictive and stopping as such becomes extremely difficult .

Peer Pressure: as already noted most individuals who started drinking did so in their teens and mainly as a result of influence of their peers. The environment one grows up in determines strongly what that individual will do and become. If drug and substance abuse is tolerated in a community, then it also likely most individuals will engage in DSA. It is easier for individuals with low self-esteem in particular to be influenced in DSA because they want to fit in with the rest of the people because they are more impressionable. There are two schools of thought on the influence of your friends on your drug use. One is that the group can pressure you into taking drugs. Another is that people may choose to hang out with people who are into the same things as they are. (

Availability: linked to peer pressure is the availability of the drugs. If there is easy access to alcohol and other drugs, then the uptake of people who abuse and take drugs will be high. The availability factor also determines which substance is abused. In many African countries including Zimbabwe children and youth under 18 can buy alcohol and other intoxicants over the counter in many relatively any shop including bars. There is no real effort to enforce the law of no sale of alcohol to persons below 18, as such there is easy access of alcoholic beverages to young people.

Environment: one’s social background including family and economic background determine the susceptibility of an individual to DSA. An unstable home environment characterised by some sort of abuse as well as an impoverished background increases an individual’s risk to DSA

Influence of Media and Public figures: the influence of media and iconic figures can lead to DSA. Man is a social being and thus learns and acts from what he sees and hears. DSA is given so much hype especially by contemporary artists, musicians, sportspersons, actors and other public figures leading to particularly the young people wanting to do the same. Young people and children in particular are very impressionable and when they see individuals they admire and aspire to be like engaging in DSA they can be influenced to do the same.

Relieve stress/pain: Some people who become addicted to drugs start off using either prescription drugs or other medications to alleviate pain or as a stress reliever. As most of the drugs contain substances that are addictive a person can end up hooked on that drug and find themselves unable to stop. In Zimbabwe because of the economic challenges most people are unable to afford the basic healthcare services and as a result they end up prescribing their own medications. This can lead to DSA.

Trauma: Other individuals also use drugs to numb the pain because of traumatic experiences such as abuse, death of a loved one or a horrible experience. Drugs as such become a coping mechanism. Others take drugs because of the nature of their work to numb their senses this is true of commercial sex workers and people involved in other socials vices such as crime.

Boredom: lack of activities and a craving for excitement can lead many to DSA. With the economic challenges facing our country a lot of people particularly youth are finding themselves with a lot of free time with no job prospects, as a result many have turned to DSA

Misinformation: Most people who abuse drugs and alcohol are misinformed about drugs and alcohol. Many are unaware of the health risks and potential to addiction that result in DSA. Youth in particular tend to get their information on DSA from their peers who are usually also less informed.

These are just some of the reasons why people take drugs and alcohol, but if most people knew of the risks and dangers associated with DSA they would likely not engage. More awareness outreaches and campaigns are needed to educate and inform the youths especially on drug and substance abuse so that they can make informed decisions because there is a huge gap especially with regards to knowledge and information on drug and substance abuse that continues to fuel the vice.

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