How to fight drug abuse on our campuses

2014-08-08 12:29

Peer pressure has always been one of the greatest dangers facing young people. Students need to be constantly reminded that the people who are trying to convince them that taking drugs is a good idea (or that it won’t harm them in any way), won’t be there for them in the future if they ever need help or a friend. This is such a key message and it is vital that it is re-affirmed constantly to the students, and by a wide range of ‘messengers’, from family to society’s role models.

Undoubtedly, drugs are best avoided because of the lack of control that they bring about through their use. The consequences of such loss of control results in young people unwittingly placing themselves in potentially life-threatening situations, not to mention the likelihood of suffering personal injury, along with significant losses of personal property and even cold, hard cash.

Chronic drug use more often than not leads to physical and psychological dependencies that interfere with interpersonal relationships. This can also ruin the chances for most users of achieving their academic goals. Long-term drug abusers are also known to have terrible withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, loss of appetite and sleeplessness.

It is inevitable that many young adults will engage in various experimental activities, especially university and college students, as they are learning about the adult world and also have an unprecedented level of freedom when it comes to decision-making, and their moral guides are their peers! The message that young people need to keep hearing is that if they are uncomfortable about any activity (either because of their moral standing, their personal preferences, or any concerns about possible consequences), then they must walk away from the situation.

Young adults have all the freedom in the world – but with that freedom comes all the responsibility for themselves and their actions. The peers who guided you or encouraged you will not lend a hand when it comes to pleading for another chance to sit your exams. They will not be there to help pay for any financial damages you have suffered or caused. And, if you find yourself in a police line-up, they’ll either be alongside you nervously facing charges, or they will have long since gone into hiding.

The temptations that arise to experiment with drugs are usually fuelled at times of great stress (exam time) or great elation (at a party), and these are the times students need to be most vigilant, and when they need most support. Reports suggest that over 70% of first-time drug experimentation comes as a result of a student being intoxicated, and from the students I have spoken to who have succumbed to such temptations, most of them said being offered drugs was the last thing they were expecting at that party or event. However, due to a mixture of elation and intoxication, their usual defences were down and they succumbed.

Students have been exposed to all the literature about the dangers of drugs, but what they don’t have is sufficient awareness of how to deal with the question when it arises. An offer to try a drug almost always happens in a new and exciting social situation where they are either feeling uncomfortable and want to fit in, or else they simply want to impress those around them. It boils down to a belief in oneself and also having thought through how you will deal with such a situation.

Students need to know what their answer to this question will be before they face the situation. It is easier to get up and walk out of a party if you have thought through the scenario before. For the unsuspecting individual, the temptation might be to quietly accept the offer of a drug in order to avoid the embarrassment of saying no, in the mistaken, on-the-spot belief that it will be a one-time thing.

This needs dialogue between parents and children as well as in student support groups.

Avoiding drugs and excessive alcohol does not mean you cannot enjoy the party. Always remember that the object of a party is to socialise and you do not need drugs and alcohol to enjoy a party even if everyone else thinks it is necessary. Students also need to be warned about the dangers of binge drinking, as this leads to major dangers and temptations. In particular, rapid alcohol consumption and mixing of drinks (especially with the social favourite ‘shooters’) is a major threat to the safety of students.

The Tshwane Institute of Technology has a social support programme for psycho-education that addresses, among other things, substance abuse and the impact on the academic, social and interpersonal performance of the students. Some of the projects initiated through the institution’s directorate of student development and support include alcohol and drugs awareness campaigns, mentorship programmes and prohibition messages.

Similarly, at the University of Pretoria they have held seminars involving representatives of schools from across Pretoria and neighbouring areas, government departments, including law enforcement agencies, NGOs and the private sector, on drug use and abuse among youth and adults.

What is essential is that students receive constant support from across their community, and the message needs to remind them that they have a choice.

The next time someone at a party tells you that you’re free to do whatever you want to do, just say, “Yes, I know… and that’s why I’m going to say 'Thanks, but no thanks'!”

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