Controlling drug abuse in Rwanda

Many sources including the media, police reports, etc, have revealed that drug and alcohol abuse have affected every area of society in Rwanda. The levels are of course still very low compared to other countries in the region.

Many sources including the media, police reports, etc, have revealed that drug and alcohol abuse have affected every area of society in Rwanda. The levels are of course still very low compared to other countries in the region.

An addiction is a compulsion to use a substance or persist with certain behaviour in order to feel good or to avoid feeling bad. It can dominate your mind, and keep you coming back for more, while some habits can also create a constant craving in your body. An addiction is different for everyone, depending on your vice and the kind of person you are.

It is the obligation of the society and the authorities in particular, to try and help alcoholics and addicts. Different approaches have been a failure because they are based on false assumptions of philosophy and human nature. They do not address the motivations and emotions of addictions.

The rehabilitation of drug addicts should consider the social and philosophical factors that lead to the behaviour.

If only we can change the belief of an addict, then we can be sure of rehabilitating him or her.

The society’s superficial orientations which maintain that addiction is the result of bad personal choices, weak character, and anti-social behaviour, have been behind the failure of drug control. People do not destroy their families, careers, and love relationships because they choose to. Who wants to be a financial destitute, lose self respect, be assaulted, or spend long and frequent periods of time in prison, just because it’s their chosen lifestyle? These are blind and ignorant attitudes that do not reflect the real human intellect.

Addicts have a physiological drive that is stronger than their own consciousness.

They are not able to control their consciousness and hence act impulsively. Alcoholics for example, are people who have lost all control of their lives, as well as their substance use and abuse.

They are people who have tried many different times to stop using alcohol, for their own personal, financial, or social reasons, and yet they couldn’t. They can be able to stop for short periods, or curb use for longer periods; but true abstinence over an extended period of time is somewhat rare among true addictive personalities. Remember that addiction progresses slowly but steadily, and is accompanied by psychological re-enforcements or rewards.

We should be able to identify the nature of the original motivation and emotional reward of the drug before it became addictive. This is very important because treating drug addiction is next to impossible unless the motivation and reward for the first repeated use is identified. Sometimes we can modify addictive behaviour by presenting an alternate kind of reward for behaving differently, but usually we must find a non-addictive behaviour which attains the same reward or a motivationally preferred combination.

This non-addictive reward too, must come gradually and not abruptly. The addicted person should be given more time to continue taking the drug, but at a relatively low rate. The rate will then be allowed to continue diminishing slowly, until a non-addictive alternative is offered. I have seen many cases where people have been ordered to stop abruptly the use of drugs. It simply doesn’t last long and the addict starts again.

As we have seen, drug addicts or alcoholics take time to reach the level of proper addiction. The same duration can be taken to reverse the behaviour. Behavioural change can never be sudden; it is a process. For example, if a marijuana smoker (addict) is used to smoking ten sticks a day, subject him to taking seven sticks, then five, three, one, and finally zero.

This kind of treatment has proved to be effective in many cases in the more developed world, and it is the only way to have a society free of drug users. The police have been involved in futile efforts to arrest and put in jail those found selling or smoking marijuana or bhang as some people call it.

Alcoholism too, is a big problem. We have had people involved in heavy drinking and they end up becoming addicts. But in the real sense, very few addicts are happy with the state of affairs in which they live. They all want to abstain but they have failed. We therefore need to devise other means of helping drug addicts and alcoholics to kick their behaviour. A real psychological approach which is of paramount importance has been missing in addressing the issue of addiction in the country.

I am convinced that if a more scientific approach is used to supplement the already existing efforts to check drug abuse in Rwanda, we can realise a society free of drugs. And for the benefit of future posterity, preventive measures should be put in place.


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