Addiction is a societal issue not individual problem

Addiction like any other terminal diseases is not a respecter of education, age, class or religion.

In Summary

•Even when one family member is abusing, the entire family and society will feel the impact.

•Addiction is so common these days; and those who experienced the effects of addiction at an early age understand how difficult such an upbringing can be.

An addict takes his daily dose of Methadone at Reachout Centre Trust in Old Town.
BATTLING DRUG ADDICTION An addict takes his daily dose of Methadone at Reachout Centre Trust in Old Town.
Image: CHARLES MGHENYI

Drug and alcohol addictions are devastating and dangerous for everyone who is involved.

Even when one family member is abusing, the entire family and society will feel the impact.

Addiction is so common these days; and those who experienced the effects of addiction at an early age understand how difficult such an upbringing can be.

When people talk about addiction, you can clearly pick the condemning approach that many take.

Some of us would not ever want to be associated with ‘addicts’. To demonstrate how bad the situation is, people do not want to be anywhere close to a family who has a person suffering with substance use disorders.

You will hear them say ‘that family is bewitched, dysfunctional or in disciplined.’

Addiction according to many is a vice that cannot be tolerated in any community hence many get dismissed from the workplace or expelled from institutions of learning.

In the neighborhood, a family that has a relative with substance use disorders is ignored and isolated.

Which parent among us would want their children to get into addiction? Are we fair then to blame and accuse them for not bringing up their children in a moral manner?

Addiction like any other terminal diseases is not a respecter of education, age, class or religion.

On the other hand, when a family member is diagnosed with hypertension and diabetes, all the family members and society at large want to show compassion and empathy.

They are committed to assist the hypertensive person to watch on their diets, exercise and ensure they take their medication.

It is very easy to perceive addiction as a point of weakness or a personality flaw, after all what is so difficult to stop taking alcohol and drugs? In reality the answer is more complex than we perceive.

Scientists define addiction as complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequence. People with severe substance use disorders have an intense focus on using certain substances, to the point that it takes over their lives.

Those of us interacting with these persons know very well how hard they struggle to stop their addiction.

Negative coping mechanisms that involve abusing substances to address life stressors can lead to addiction. Individuals need to learn and be taught healthy coping and life skills that are very critical for any individual in making safe and healthy decisions.

Addiction is a family and societal disease at large; the only question is when it will catch up with us. As a nation we need to get to a level where we recognize addiction as a complex health and social issue rather than a moral issue.

Consequently, the government is doing so much through the proposed Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Control Act (Amendment) Bill 2020 to reduce accessibility and minimize availability by extension and make it very expensive to trade in narcotics.

I am happy that the proposed bill seeks to deal with the root of the problem; traffickers who do not care about human life as long as they make money. The bill is also considerate that the users access treatment and rehabilitation and not the expensive cost of incarceration.

Policy makers, religious leaders, and all sectors including and not limited to security and education have a big role to play.

If we give addiction treatment and rehabilitation the attention we give to HIV/AIDS, we will reduce stigma among individuals and families suffering from this disease hence support them to seek the available interventions.

Judith Twala is a counselling & Rehabilitation Manager with the National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse.