The key to understanding addiction lies in a small number of points. First, many systems in the body work to maintain an unchanging internal environment. In particular, several systems produce compensatory reactions whenever a change occurs, in order to oppose the change and thus ensure stability. Some of these compensatory reactions are learned, probably through classical conditioning.
How does this apply to drugs such as morphine and heroin? They have so many effects: relief from pain, euphoria, and relaxation. After repeated exposure to these drugs, all of these effects weaken and the drug user develops a drug tolerance — a diminished response to the drug — and with that, a need for greater and greater doses to obtain the full effects.
I believe for somebody to be addicted to alcohol, he starts with just a sip of it. Slowly, it turns out to be half a glass, a full glass, and suddenly… one glass has no effect at all. I have seen men who cannot start a day’s work before taking a bottle of beer or a pack of cigarettes. Some of them literally shake and cannot think straight. How sad is that?
Kenya, for example, has had causes of people who lose their eyesight and others lose their lives, after taking illicit brews. Funny enough, none of those who survive this fate help prevent it into never happening again.
I remember as vividly as if it was yesterday when police officers did a warrant search in most houses in my neighborhood. A woman who was a well known brewer of he illicit brew was arrested that day. Dirty, smelly tanks full of the illicit brew were uncovered. The illicit brew was poured outside and to our shock, all kinds of filthy things could be seen. From torn shoes to somebody’s under garment. The woman explained that those “items” quickened fermentation. I could not believe how heartless humans could be. Instead of considering her customer’s health, she just thought of money. What if all of them died?
I have seen people addicted with bhang behave very strangely. If they come across a crack, they are on the position, “on to your marks, get ready…” then jump but still stumble. On a different occasion, one mistook a river for a stream. He thought that with just one stride, he would cross to the other side. He almost fell into the river but luckily, somebody was just in time to save him. I try not to think what would have happened had anyone not been fast enough to save him.
For an experienced drug user, the sight of a hypodermic needle is a reliable signal that the heroin is about to be delivered. In essence, the sight of a needle is a conditioned stimulus, signaling the imminent arrival of the drug. To prepare itself for the upcoming drug, the body launches a compensatory response that is exactly the opposite of the body’s biologically determined response to the heroin itself. The compensatory response then cancels out the drug’s arrival — yielding only a small drug effect overall. Stability is preserved. It is this diminished impact that we call drug tolerance.
Classical conditioning can also explain the craving that is centered to addiction. Imagine that a heroin addict sees the hypodermic needle or approaches the site where he usually “shoots up,” but for one reason or another, has no heroin. In this case, the sight of the needle is present, triggering the compensatory response, but the drug does not arrive and therefore there is no effect. The addict will therefore experience the compensatory reaction with nothing to balance it. This leads to drug craving.
Consistent with this proposal, the effects of drug craving are totally the opposite of those associated with the drug itself. Heroin produces euphoria, calmness, and diminished sensitivity to pain. Craving for the drug will involve depression, restlessness, and an increased sensitivity to pain. Heroin causes the nose, eyes, and mouth to dry out. Craving brings tears, a runny nose, and salivation.
For as long as I can remember, I have been warned about drugs. I even know that if I use excess painkillers — that’s drug abuse. I still remember an incident where my cousin and I thought that we could have our first experience as smokers (we were three by then). We took some old newspaper from the house and each of us rolled one for herself. Then we went to my aunt’s kitchen (which was outside, and by that time, we used three stones as the fireplace). Each of us directed our rolled up “cigarettes” near the flames of the fire and out as soon as the started smoking. We then went behind the house where each of us drew in a puff.
I will never forget the experience. Hot, bitter smoke burned through my chest. My eyes started tearing up and even turned a blood shot red. I could not even manage to stay straight after that because I was coughing a lot. My cousin also had the same experience. Today, it is usually a secret joke, between us. It made us learn our lesson. Truly, once bitten, twice shy. None of us has indulged herself into drugs. Sometimes, my cousin and I will try to give the little counsel we know, to our uncles. They are chainsmokers and always drunk. Well, the song is always the same. They always promise to change but to no avail.
I always read every poster that I come across, a behavior I had even as a little kid. English words, especially, seemed a mystery to me and I made it my business to know as many English words as possible — that was my secret adventure. In hospitals, I read every notice that I came across. I still remember a graphic account where I saw a poster that literally made me scream. Everybody turned to look at me and some came to find out what was wrong. My mother just came in time and I showed her what had made me scream. Some people just sniggered and left.
It was a poster stuck on the hospital man. An ugly image of a man was on it and several writings. My mum lifted me so that I could read the descriptions clearly: “The Internal Body Parts of a Smoker.” He had loose teeth, a darkened windpipe, dark lungs, a chunk of liver, the pancreas was an indescribable colour, he had one leg — maybe the other had been amputated. From that day of, I associated those who smoked with that shocking image. I just wished that I could carry the poster high and walk with it everywhere I went. I just wished that people would listen to me and stop smoking.
The irony about all these incidents is that each and every packet of cigarettes had a warning. Written in both English and Kiswahili: “Warning — Cigarette consumption is dangerous to your health.” But, people still smoked. Today, each packet has a photo of some body parts, seriously damaged my cigarettes. Under it there is a caption: “cigarette consumption can lead to throat cancer.” But, people still smoke.
I have participated in the Great Debators Contest (Kenya) two years in a row. In the first year, I was just an observer. In the second year, I was one of the debators representing our school (and our school won)! Each and every year, there must be a topic relating to drug abuse. Each and every year, I still have hope that people will change and get to learn about the damage and harm they do to their bodies.
Kenya’s coastal regions have been mostly affected by drug abuse. There are places that the youth will meet and use drugs. Needles are thrown everywhere and anyhow. There was a time when the HIV/AIDS virus has affected so many people especially because of sharing hypodermic needles. As a way to curb this, they were urged to use individual hypodermic needles then replace after we. They knew that this would not control drug abuse but at least, it would control the spread of HIV/AIDS in one way or another.
I still emphasize that youth should be taught the dangers of drug abuse. The superstitions that a drug makes you forget all your troubles are a lie. They might make you half-conscious but on regaining your consciousness, you will remember all your troubles. What will you do in this case? Use more and more always? This will make you an addict. Then what? Go to a rehabilitation center? That is not what we want for our lives. There are so many healthy way to relieve ourselves from stress: do what you like most. Take a nap, go for a hike, write in your journal, listen to music, or go for a picnic with family and friends.
Drug abuse increases high rates of truancy. Students run away from school when they are in short supply or under restriction. Sometimes, this student might never go back to school. He/she is a truant who may not know what to do next with his/her life.
It also leads to high crime rates in the country. Some of the drug addicts will do anything to get money for their drugs. Some will steal from friends, relatives, spouses, banks, etc. Others will murder anyone who tries to cross their path. In some extreme cases, they may attempt suicide. Those are just but a few crimes committed by drug addicts. Others go into a state of depression which may lead to insanity.
It also leads to the increase of immorality rates. Have you ever asked yourself how this is so? If you go to some night clubs, you will find women and men doing unimaginable things (at this point, my pen cannot write what). He leads to teen pregnancy. How? A teenage girl might involve herself in pre-marital sex, without using protection, leading to her being pregnant. In some instances, these girls might not know that they are pregnant and they go ahead abusing drugs. By the time they know it, it will be too late and the drugs will affect the growth of the fetus in the uterus. The child will be born with complications, or will be deformed. Some will have brain disorders.
Some girls, then choose to abort. In the process she might die or the newborn might de. In my country, Kenya, it is illegal for one to abort. Anyone found to have committed the crime is taken to the law court and action is taken against him or her. Whether he is the doctor and she is the patient. Some people say that “abortion does not stop you from being a mother, you still have one, but to a dead child.” How true is that?
Drug abuse leads to poor economy in any country. For example, if a boss of a certain company of even an employee is a drug addict, he/she will not use his/her skills effectively. They will be suffering from hang-overs (especially after weekends) and some will even lose their jobs because of their negligence. This reduces the amount of man-power hence production levels are low.
We can help change these circumstances. Training people on the effects of drug abuse will help. Sometimes people may feel that the teaching on drug abuse is frequently done but people never change. However, it is time that we have hope. If in your talk or writing you help save just one life, you have done the best thing to make the world a better place.
Rehabilitation centres should be constructed in every county or state. This will make it easier to reach to drug addicts, including street children, who never have somebody to guide them in this path of life. Can you imagine being homeless, without food, having tattered clothes to wear and barefoot, come rain come shine? If they are affected by drugs and have nowhere to go, no one to help them, what is the next alternative? They should be rehabilitated; taught on life skills to reduce dependency. They should be shown love and given care. Reformed drug abuse should be invited to give them a talk. From their life experience, the drug addicts will be able to believe in change.
The country or state should be on the front line, teaching youth on entrepreneurship skills. They will be able to employ themselves and other people. This will help reduce idleness, for as we know, an idle mind is a devil’s workshop. This will not only curb drug abuse but also improve the country’s economy.
Youth should be motivated into doing things that they love: drawing, dancing, painting, poetry, reading novels. This will make their minds engaged in a positive manner. Their minds will take them to wonderful places, making their creativity expand day by day. This will curb the usage of drugs and also will help bring up a generation of creative thinkers who will make our world a 5- dimensional world.
Let us not do all these and forget the main thing: all the drug suppliers. If we do all this things without controlling the root cause of drug abuse, it will be similar to trying to cut down a tree from the top, using a razor blade. How tiring is that? It even would not work. What it we use a bulldozer to uproot this tree? This would mean making it extinct. The drug suppliers are the roots. They only think of acquiring wealth very fast. They do not think of other people’s lives, families, jobs… they are self-centered. What if action is taken against them?
A better world, a better place. A place full of people who feel secure. That is what I want my world to be. I have already started seeing the change, after my friend stopped using drugs, he is reformed and has gotten to learn of his abilities and talents. Let this world stop being an imagination, let’s make it real.