Alcohol comes in different forms, but its main content is ethanol for example, beers, wines and spirits all have different concentrations of ethanol, vodka a renowned spirit almost has no smell.

Drug abuse involves excessive/over use of drugs. There are a number of drug substances that young people are taking and these include the following; marijuana, Mira, kuber, cigarettes, aviation fuel, tobacco and cocaine. These drugs are used through shisha, sniffing, smoking, injection and drinking.  

One way to understand drinking problems is to examine definitions of alcohol misuse. The World health Organization (WHO) defines alcohol misuse as alcohol use that places people at risk for problems including “at-risk use”, “clinical alcohol abuse,” and “dependence”.

At-risk alcohol use is the consumption of alcohol in a way that is not consistent with legal or medical guidelines, and it is likely to present risks of acute or chronic health or social problems for the user or others. Examples include underage drinking, drinking by individuals with a family history of alcoholism or problem drinking or drinking if one has medical condition that could be worsened by drinking, such as a stomach ulcer or liver disease.

Clinical alcohol abuse is a more serious type of misuse that results in one or more recurrent, adverse consequences, such as failure to fulfil important obligations or the repeated use of alcohol in physically dangerous situations.

Alcohol dependence is the most severe type of alcohol misuse which involves a chronic disorder characterized by three or more symptoms within a twelve-month period. These symptoms include alcohol tolerance, withdrawal, loss of control and continued use despite knowledge of having a psychological problem.

Causes of Alcoholism/Drugs in Uganda

Unemployment: Some of the arguments that were advanced to explain Uganda’s “award” (1st position in alcohol consumption worldwide) believe that people drink because they lack what to do.

In other cultures, parents pour alcohol down the throats of a child almost as soon as it can be spoon-fed while others give their older children crude Waragi (local made alcohol from sugar cane) in the name of deworming them yet there is no medical evidence to support this and it is never safe to give ‘just a sip’

Massive Advertisement: Findings from the WHO report show that powerful multinational companies spend heavily on marketing to stimulate demand for alcoholic beverages, and to maintain high barriers to entry into the alcohol trade. The report says that with the decline in consumption in developed countries, these companies have intensified their efforts to establish new markets in developing countries, countries in transition and among constituencies such as women and young people who have traditionally abstained or drunk very little.

When parents drink regularly in the presence of children; it may prompt the child to want to drink too.

Peer pressure: Youth can be placed under an incredible amount of pressure and influence during parties and small outings to drink. This is a common starter ground for youth to be seduced into the habit by getting their hands on their first taste of alcohol and being told that it is harmless. This can later translate into a habit that perpetuates a vicious cycle thus eventually creating an alcohol dependency. This of course does not happen to all young people as social drinking is of the norm, however for young people living in poverty and difficult family circumstance, this can become a coping mechanism leading to addiction.  

Outcomes of taking alcohol/drugs

The effects depend on how much alcohol and drugs is in the blood. This is what affects the brain and decreases functioning of some nerves. The alcohol/drugs in the blood depends on the dose; how much you take and how quickly you take it.  Food in the stomach delays absorption of alcohol so you take longer to feel it.

Body fat does not absorb alcohol from the blood. Fat people tend to get drunk quicker than thin ones; women also get drunk faster because they have more fat than men.

Body metabolism determines how quickly the body burns off the alcohol. The liver is most important in this. People who drink a lot have livers that burn it off faster. Those with sick livers get drunk faster. The effect of alcohol also depends on other drugs, especially sedatives that may be taken with it. The immediate physical effects of alcohol depend on the amount and frequency of drinking while the mental and emotional effects are influenced by the mood of the drinker and the setting in which drinking takes place.

Two physical effects resulting from prolonged heavy alcoholism and drug abuse include

Tolerance and withdrawal: Alcohol tolerance refers to the need for increased amounts of alcohol to achieve the same level of intoxication. For example, five or six drinks may be needed to achieve the same effects produced by one or two drinks when the individual first began drinking. Alcohol withdrawal, on the other hand, refers to a number of physical and psychological reaction an individual experiences when significantly reducing or stopping prolonged heavy drinking. Symptoms of withdrawal include nausea, vomiting, anxiety, and hand tremors.

Alcohol use has health and social consequences for those who drink, for those around them, and for the nation as a whole.

Health Effects: According to WHO, public health problems associated with alcohol/drugs consumption have reached alarming proportions, and alcohol/drugs has become one of the biggest risks to health globally. The WHO report cities several health and social problems that are associated with alcohol, including higher rate of traffic accidents, domestic violence, and HIV prevalence. Chronic Illnesses: The WHO report describes alcohol as a “threat to wide health”. Alcohol consumption contributes to disease, injury, disability and premature death more than any other risk factor in developing countries.

  • Its use contributes to more than 60 diseases and conditions, including chronic diseases such as alcohol dependence and liver cirrhosis. Alcoholics particularly women are prone to a range of health problems, from osteoporosis (a reduction in bone density, leading to cancer.
  • Some medical research have proved alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer. Alcohol affects many organ systems of the body, but perhaps most notably affected are the central nervous system and liver. Excessive alcohol can cause acute and chronic liver diseases and the extent of liver damage depends on the amount of alcohol and how long the drinking continues whether one takes beer, spirits, wines, or local drinks.
  • Women may get menstrual problems. With advanced alcoholic cirrhosis, people usually die from liver failure even if they stop drinking. Liver disease is not the only life-threatening complication of alcohol, other medical, social and psychological problems occur as a result of alcohol. Prolonged use of alcohol is also linked to cardiomyopathy which is a disease where the muscular contractions of the heart become weak and inefficient.
  • Drinking alcohol is also noted as one of the causes of cluster headaches; a cluster headache is a relatively rare type of headache that starts suddenly and is characterized by excruciating pain in or around one eye. More common in men, a cluster headache usually lasts about 45minutes and occurs at the same time each day for several weeks, until the ‘cluster period ends’. Once a cluster period has started a change in sleep pattern particularly taking an afternoon nap seems to bring on the headaches even more. Cluster periods usually last four to eight weeks and may occur every few months. The cause of this type of headache is unknown but drinking alcohol is noted to spur headaches during cluster periods.
  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS): Alcohol and children at whatever age simply do not mix. From conception to at least 16years of age, children should not drink alcohol, child health experts say. Children suffering from FAS have abnormally small heads associated with mental defects. Narrow space between the margins of the eye-lids, thin upper lips with reddish colour on the borders, dimples on the upper lips due to poor development, abnormal shortening of one or both jaws in the adolescence are also evident facial characteristics. Infants with FAS are small at birth and this persists into adolescence. More than 80% of these children are considered disabled and show signs of slow learning, defects in memory and concentration. According to the New Vision May 3 2004, a research published in the journal of paediatrics showed that besides the well-documented damage to the brain and spinal cord, there is also nerve damage in the limbs of babies whose mothers drank alcohol heavily while pregnant.
  • HIV/AIDS: Alcohol/drug users are twice as likely as non-alcohol/drug users to get HIV. It is okay for a drunken man to stagger across the streets but for a woman, it is considered unacceptable; not only will she be shunned by the community but also, she stands the risk of physical or sexual assault. Drinking thus increases women’s vulnerability to HIV/AIDs.
  • Alcohol is a depressant which if taken in large quantities impairs judgment, slows reaction and causes drowsiness, loss of alertness and concentration. It also reduces and blurs vision, it can aid young people into trying/taking drugs and casual sex because their reasoning is impaired and this can lead to multiple consequences such as pregnancy, assault, STIs (sexually Transmitted Infections) and HIV/AIDS.
  • In addition, alcohol can lead to depression, dull senses, it can slow down reflexes and reduce or squelch the libido. On this, Shakespeare although not a sex expert made an observation in Macbeth “it provokes the desire but takes away the performance.” According to the Daily Monitor November 8 2002, the above is true for many people.

Youth link networks on alcoholism/drug abuse

Different strategies have been discussed to stop alcoholism/drug abuse by Youth Link Networks team and the information has been cascaded to the young people and their caregivers which include:  

  • Avoid unsupervised and unsafe environments, for example, with strangers, or at large events and parties where there are no adults.

YLN’s is working hand in hand to sensitize the young people about the dangers of alcohol and drug use through gatherings and community events.

  • Being confident and knowing when to say no.

Through community outreaches, youth from different communities are converged and are taught about the dangers of taking alcohol and the importance of being self-confident and saying no to alcohol and drugs.

Avoid drinking games

Drinking games are mainly common in high schools during prom parties and other kinds of social gatherings/parties. During these invents, youths are prone to using drugs and excessive alcohol that could result into addiction. In this case YLN’s try to educate the youth about the dangers surrounding these events and things to be mindful for to protect their safety.

  • Set up a non-drinking buddy system.

We are looking for a way forward for youth involved in drug and alcohol addiction or ‘bad habits’ especially in urban centres. We have come up with the idea to form non-drinking buddy groups. Each group will have mentor and professional guidance. The aim of the group is to provide activities and relationship building with sober people in new environments that encourage progression and elevation. Sometimes youth take alcohol because of depression.  Therefore we are offering psycho- social support to beneficiaries in order to restore hope in them and be informed that they are important to the community and they are needed. 

In Uganda Alcoholism and drug abuse is mostly found in urban centres and trading centres for rural areas, its victims are youths usually between the ages of 15-17. At this stage, youth meet curiosity and can be most stubborn that they can often do things according to their own will.

At Youth Link Networks, we recognize alcohol and drug addiction to be a major obstruction to the development of the youth so we are determined to play an integral role within the community and create a sense of unity and support because they matter and they are the influencers of tomorrow.

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