Patterns of self-reported drug use among secondary school students in Bendel State, Nigeria

Sections

ABSTRACT
Introduction
Related research
Methodology
ResuIts
Who uses drugs?
What drugs do students know about?
Drugs used
Reasons for drug use
Frequency of drug use
Concluding remarks

Details

Author: J. NEVADOMSKY
Pages: 9 to 19
Creation Date: 1981/01/01

Patterns of self-reported drug use among secondary school students in Bendel State, Nigeria

J. NEVADOMSKY
Centre for Social, Cultural and Environmental Research, University of Benin, Benin City, Nigeria

ABSTRACT

Based on a sample of nearly 1,500 secondary school students in Bendel State, Nigeria, this study shows that students disapprove of most forms of drug use among their peers and that very few of the actually use drugs. No clear evidence emerged for the use of heroin, morphine and cocaine. One finds, however, that chlordiazepoxide (Librium) and diazepam (Valium) are among the most frequently used drugs. One important finding is that there is a kind of "coalescence of drug use" in which certain drugs tend to go together.

Introduction

The taking of drugs for social rather than prescribed medical reasons is said to be progressing at an alarming rate among Nigerian youths (Akindele and Odejide, 1974; Awaritefe and Ebie, 1975). The public, police, press, preachers, pedagogues, psychiatrists and parents regularly decry what they think are the evil consequences of drug use. Indeed, nearly every deviant act in society is directly or indirectly attributed to drug use.

Because of the absence of a sufficient and reliable body of data from which generalizations can be derived the present research was undertaken in Bendel State, a rapidly developing area sandwiched between south-eastern and south-western Nigeria. Important concerns in this analysis are to determine the kinds of drugs secondary school students use, how they get them, how frequently they use them etc. Behind these rather obvious issues I indirectly probe a more fundamental question, namely, is there in fact a drug problem among secondary school students of proportions serious enough to cause alarm and merit counteractive measures?

Related research

The issue of drug use in Nigeria began attracting the attention of researchers in the late 1950s, though this early work focused on the relationship between traditional cultural stress patterns and mental ill-health.

Lambo (1959), for instance, reported that 85 per cent of a sample of l ,300 Nigerian school pupils had used traditionally prescribed medicines to help with school progress, or to ward off evil effects of other medicines they believed were directed against them. The study shows where some of the stresses lie, and suggests that breakdowns would in some cases be interpreted by patients and traditional healers alike as due to the task of adapting to modern life.

Lambo (1980), Asuni (1964) and Boroffka (1966) seem to have been among the first in Nigeria to report on the use of what may be called "non-traditional" drugs in relieving stress or seeking euphoria. Boroffka, for example, reported on 224 cases with a "cannabis history" seen at the Lagos (Yaba) Mental Hospital between 1961-1965.

These were clinical studies carried out at neuropsychiatric hospitals. Of a more intensive type of research, and involving "snowball sampling", Odejide and Sanda (1976) present three detailed case histories as typical examples from the 19 drug users (aged 21 to 32) in their sample. The authors contend that some form of deprivation (paternal, symbolic etc.) is associated with drug use. As they say, "Frustration was found in this study to be an important psychological factor among those abusing drugs. Commonest among the detected causes of their frustration were poor performance in school, the failure to secure jobs after persistent efforts, and extreme dissatisfaction with conditions at the place of employment of those fortunate to be employed". The authors therefore seem to suggest that drug use is a response to certain conditions in society which lead to frustration, failure and dissatisfaction with one's life opportunities.

Of more immediate relevance to the present study are those reports that directed attention to drug use among students. Olatawura and Odejide (1974) assessed the prevalence of drug use among a sample of secondary school students in an attempt to identify areas where preventive measures could be applied. In their sample of 56 students (15-20 years of age), 21 admitted taking Mandrax (methaqualone + diphenhydramine), butethal (Soneryl), Reactivan, 1 methylphenidate (Ritalin), Proplus, 2 coffee and cola nuts, the last three containing a high concentration of caffeine. No one in the sample admitted taking marijuana.

Akindele's (1974) clinical study of 22 university drop-outs (aged 19 to 23 years) focused primarily on what the author perceived as a wastage of manpower arising from drug use. Akindele maintains that drop-outs are lured into the use of drugs by friends at social gatherings; they continue taking these drugs (marijuana, alcohol, amphetamines, Proplus, Mandrax and LSD are said to be the most frequently used), eventually perform poorly in exams and areexpelled from the university. Commenting further, Akindele argued that his sample was probably a fraction of the students who dropped out because of drugs. It must be pointed out that the author does not consider the number of students who may have dropped out for other reasons. Contrary to most other research on the issue, he states that his subjects began taking drugs while in university.

1 A preparation containing 10 mg 2-Ethylamino-3-phenylnorcamphane hydrochloride and vitamins per tablet.

2A preparation containing 5o mg caffeine per tablet.

By contrast, Ogunremi and Okonofua's (1977) study of Ife University undergraduates showed that the drug user began taking drugs in the latter half of his secondary school programme. They found that the most widely used drugs were amphetamines (40 per cent), marijuana (35 per cent), barbiturates (13per cent) and Mandrax (9 per cent). Only 9 per cent of the sample (19 students) claimed to be using one or more of these drugs consistently; the remaining 35 drug users were "occasional drug users who tried the drugs once or twice before". In the great majority of cases the reported effects of these drugs were excitement, unusual friendliness, transient sexual prowess, mental alertness, sleepiness, hunger pangs, boldness, exaggerated visual and auditory experiences etc. Few claimed to have suffered attacks of fear or anxiety. The authors single out these few cases of incapacitation to conclude that such reactions may affect students' exam performance or involve them in criminal activities.

Apart from the rather general statements on drug use and prevention in Bendel State by Sofoluwe (1976) and Binitie (1977) and the interesting, "vector" approach for its prevention by Awaritefe and Ebie (1975), one substantial report appears to be that by Oviasu (1976) who, from a case file of more than 4,000 patients seen at the Uselu Nervous Diseases Clinic between 1969-1972, reviewed the 296 cases referred for reactions to smoking marijuana. Oviasu notes the following among his conclusions: no evidence that smoking marijuana leads to the use of "harder" drugs; no evidence that "parental loss plays a significant part in the history of drug-takers" and no evidence that smoking marijuana is a cause of crime other than that smoking and possessing marijuana is itself a crime and therefore its own cause. Of those who had been referred because of reactions to drug use (mainly marijuana, amphetamines, to a lesser extent Proplus, and to a very minor extent, alcohol), almost 70 per cent were in the 20-25 age group with the largest number of marijuana users being "artisans" (mechanics, carpenters etc., 24 per cent), soldiers (17per cent), students (13.2 per cent), and so on, including police (4.1 per cent), farmers (3.4 per cent) and musicians (4.1 per cent). It is interesting to note that the sources of referrals were mainly parents and friends or self, the former "frightened by the patient's aggressive and homicidal behaviour, wanton destruction of property . . . disorientation" etc., the latter claiming to have been poisoned by friends who offered them "something to smoke". As Oviasu comments, "Most of the patients were young inexperienced smokers of Indian hemp".

Of these studies only two focus directly on student populations; the remaining reports are clinical studies. One of the methodological difficulties encountered in the latter studies is the bias deriving from samples of drug users who experienced fear or disorientation with the drug and either sought the assistance of a physician themselves or were referred by friends who could not comprehend what appeared to them as psychotic behaviour. These studies do not take into account those users not seeking medical aid and whose peer groups (of users and non-users alike) may anticipate the reaction of the particular drug and therefore recognize the resultant behaviour as the typical manifestation of the drug, "high" and not a sign of "being poisoned" or "going mad". Further, the clinical studies also tend to focus on a group of emotionally disturbed people, who may be seeking in drugs a solution to their mental ill-health.

Nearly all reports have expressed alarm at the increasing rate of drug abuse, but evidence is rare in support of this view; indeed, the data from at least a few of the studies would seem to suggest a very modest use of drugs.

There were few female users; most of them were in their early 20s; the most commonly used drugs appeared to be amphetamines, marijuana, Mandrax and, of course, alcohol. Whether or not social class has any bearing on drug use is difficult to tell from the available data: Sanda observed no social class differences; Oviasu found the majority of users to be lower class, but both studies are limited by the nature of their sample which in neither case was random.

Nevertheless, these studies are important because they examine critical issues and provide a baseline for further research.

Methodology

Field-work for this paper was undertaken during the 1977-1978 and 1978-1979 academic sessions by four students in the Faculty of Education, University of Benin, as part of the requirements for their degree (J. Johnson, O. Oberabor, A. B. Oduaran and N. Okoh). It was fortuitous that nearly all the major urban areas in the state were covered: Benin City, Sapele and Warri-Effurun. One local government area, Akoko-Edo, was also included.

In all, nearly l,500 questionnaires were distributed to classes 3, 4, and 5 in 18 secondary schools. 3 There was a 90 per cent return rate. In each selected school respondents were chosen either by random or by systematic sampling.

In spite of the fact that each of these studies has its own special emphasis some central control was maintained over the questions asked so that the findings are generally consistent and complementary. Methodologically, the studies summarized here are best classified as descriptive surveys of reported attitudes which concentrate on a sociological interpretation of the findings. In the present paper most attention will be given to reporting convergencies in data. It will only rarely be possible to do more than hint at variations.

ResuIts

Cigarettes and alcohol are easily available in the village and on city streets and in public places such as hotels, supermarkets and food canteens. Cola nuts, a mild stimulant, are sold by Hausa hawkers. Gin is now licit and has an open market. Generally, there is little to prohibit the sale and consumption of these products and alcohol use is socially accepted.

Other drugs may be less conspicuous but do not appear to be less accessible to the consumer. Proplus, Mandrax, sleeping pills and tranquillizers are easily obtained. Marijuana is more difficult to obtain but only because, being both illegal and socially condemned, it is not publicly displayed or sold and the consumer must buy it from friends, the habitues of night clubs or in small rural communities. 4

3only data from classes 4 and 5 have been used in the present study as we were mainly concerned with students near the end of their secondary school careers.

Who uses drugs?

It is characteristic of many drug use studies to determine the association between the SES (socio-economic-status) variables and the dependant variable, in this case drug use. Several researchers (e.g. Odejide and Sanda) noted the possibility of an association between drug use and social class, and drug use and parental deprivation(defined as a "broken" home). In the Warri-Effurun sample, where these variables were investigated, little if any association was found. Using a rather conventional three-class divisions (based on fathers occupation and education) the following percentages for the socio-economic status of drug users6 were obtained: "upper" class: 31 per cent; "middle" class: 43 per cent; and "lower" class: 26 per cent. In terms of "parental deprivation" 64 per cent of the student users came from two-parent homes while 36 per cent came from "broken" homes. As used in the available literature and here, parental deprivation is a rather flimsy and insufficiently elaborated variable, but it has received some attention. The religion of the respondent did not turn out to be an important factor either, though "religiosity" (subjectively defined as how strongly the respondent felt about his beliefs in comparison with those around him) may be worth further study: about 170 per cent of students using drugs did not consider themselves as being religious. 7

Generally, males are more prone to drug involvement than females; a finding that is in agreement with earlier work (e.g. Oviasu, 1976). In the Sapless sample, for instance, 25 per cent of the male students but only 15 percent,. of the female students were users at the time of the study. In the Benin sample, the respective percentages are 15.6 and 8.5 in both cases the drugs "used" are the same as those listed for the War sample). As will be seen, there are also sex differences in the kinds of drugs used as well as frequency and patterns of use.

4Students in Benin City cited the most widely available sources of drugs (excluding alcohol and cigarettes) as: "underground agents"(57.percent).chemists (45.percent). home (33percent), open markets (17percent) and "grass" forms (17 percent). The percentages do not total 100 because of multiple responses.

5 "Upper" or professional, managerial; "middle" or clerks. skilled and semiprofessional workers, junior officers; and "lower" or unskilled workers.

6As defined earlier: but excluding cigarettes.

7Of course, to test statistically for significance one would want to know about those who are or who are not religious, but who do not use drugs. A similar statistical analysis would be needed to ascertain the significance of parental deprivation. Unfortunately I have not yet computed these data.

Evidence from the present four surveys suggests a much earlier exposure to drug use than reported by Ogunremi and Okonofua (1977). In the Benin sample, 38 per cent of those who had or were currently using drugs said that they had been introduced to them by or in class l of secondary school; in the Akoko-Edo sample, 36 per cent of the students indicated having sampled drugs in primary school; in the Warri sample, about I 3 per cent of the students who had used drugs said they were exposed to them between ages 10 and 15; and in the Sapele sample, 25 per cent had been exposed to drugs between ages 11 and 13. It must be kept in mind that the above percentages indicate initial taste or occasional exposure to, not necessarily continuous or recurrent use. Moreover, in all the samples, the substance most frequently cited is alcohol. In the Akoko-Edo study, for example, of the 54 students who claimed to have tried drugs in primary school, 82 per cent mentioned alcohol, 6 per cent cited Mandrax, 4 per cent listed marijuana and 8 per cent gave "other". In the Sapele sample 40 per cent used alcohol, I 5 per cent chlordiazepoxide/diazepam, 7 per cent Mandrax and 8 per cent marijuana. In the Ogunremi and Okonofua study, the authors were primarily concerned with substances otherthan alcohol, but even if we exclude alcohol it is still remarkable that very young students are exposed to a variety of drugs. It would seem that exposure to drugs is rapidly seeping into the earlier years.

What drugs do students know about?

If students are exposed to drugs earlier than before, by the time they reach class 4 or 5 they ought to know something about these drugs, at least in the sense of having heard them mentioned or having seen them, in school or elsewhere. As shown in table I , cigarettes and alcohol understandably top the list in response to the questions "What drugs have you heard about?" and "What drugs have you seen?" Codeine, a common pain reliever, is also well known. Although more than three quarters of the students have heard of marijuana (under one of its local names), only one quarter claim to have ever

Table 1

Percentages a of respondents of all four samples who have ever heard about and seen drugs

Drugs

Heard about

Seen

Cigarettes
100 100
Alcohol
100 100
Codeine
86 83
Marijuana
81 26
Chlordiazepoxide/diazepam
58 32
Mandrax (methaqualone + diphenhydramine)
53 27
Opium
18 5
Cocaine
16 7
Amphetamines
13 6
LSD
10 4
Morphine
8 4
Proplus (containing caffeine)
5 2
Barbiturates
4 2
other
7 3

aAll percentages in this and subsequent tables have been rounded to the nearest whole number.

seen it. In view of the wide publicity marijuana receives, it is virtually impossible not to have heard of it. On the whole, the data suggest that (excluding cigarettes, alcohol and codeine) roughly half as many students have actually seen a particular drug as have heard about it.

Drugs used

There is a wide gap between having heard about or seen a particular drug and actually having tried it. As table 2 indicates, alcohol and cigarettes again head the list. More than one half the students have at one time or another taken a drink, if only out of curiosity, Table 2 also shows that chlordiazepoxide and diazepam have been used by more than one quarter of the students and, as shown in table 3, by nearly half the female students in Benin and Sapele. In most cases, students said that these drugs had been medically prescribed. Still, it must come as a shock to know that so many young people have had to depend on these drugs for relaxation. Perhaps because male students are able to relieve their anxieties by having a good "booze-up" with friends, a male cultural pattern in Nigeria as in many other societies, there is less need to resort to sedatives and tranquillizers. Marijuana, though widely known, has been tried by about 10 per cent of the student population, mainly

Table 2

Percentages of respondents of all four samples who have ever used drugs

Alcohol
55
Chlordiazepoxide/diazepam
29
Cigarettes
20
Mandrax (methaqualone + diphenhydramine)
11
Marijuana
10
Proplus (containing caffeine)
4
LSD
1
Other
8

Table 3

Drugs ever used, by sex

(Benin and Sapele samples only)

 

Percentages

Drugs

Males

Females

Alcohol
72 45
Chlordiazepoxide/diazepam
35 46
Cigarettes
30 5
Marijuana
15 6
Mandrax (methaqualone + diphenhydramine)
12 3
Proplus (containing caffeine)
5
-
LSD
1 0
Other
3 0

the males. Proplus is also a "male" drug perhaps because it is mistakenly regarded as an aphrodisiac. By and large it seems that the male students use those drugs regarded with intolerance by society.

The category of "other" in table 2 consists of amphetamines or pep-pills, opium, morphine etc. The few cases of morphine use are almost certainly medical, i.e., as prescribed treatment for injuries. Opium is mentioned only in the Akoko-Edo and Sapele samples and I suspect that students have mistaken this drug for another. The same applies to LSD.

Reasons for drug use

The ages at which young people receive formal schooling coincides with those biological and sexual changes that mark the transition from youth to adult. It is also a time when students are exposed to numerous pressures from parents and peers, Small-scale societies have normally been adept at coping with transitional statuses, through rites of passage or age grading, by arranging marriages and delimiting friendship cliques, and by providing that sense of security that comes through adherence to age-old principles and regulations. In modern society, on the other hand, stratification, individualism, inter-group ignorance and competition create tension, uncertainty and inhibitions. Such factors make difficult the attainment of an easy, non-competitive friendship situation based on trust which is a prerequisite for interpersonal relaxation. Drugs are perceived to be functional in lessening the tension and in breaking down barriers between strangers in society. They are also perceived as assisting the individual in coping with the complexity and sheer magnitude of contemporary life. I mention these points only to suggest a few of the general background factors that may be responsible for drug use. There are of course others. As table 4 shows, about one half the students have tried drugs out of curiosity. Others take them for enjoyment or because their friends take them. Students also indicate that chlordiazepoxide and diazepam assist in rest; amphetamines prolong wakefulness, among other things, and may be used mostly around examination time. Alcohol and marijuana are used to feel

Table 4

Reasons for drug use

(Benin, Akoko-Edo and Warri samples)

Reason

Percentages

Experiment/curiosity
49
Boldness
39
Friends do it/everyone does it
38
Feel happy/enjoy social gatherings
37
Sleep well
32
Stay awake
27
Stay calm/avoid anxiety
25
Academic pressure
19
Loneliness
12
Performance in sports
9
Other
6

happy and to enjoy social gatherings, and so on. "Boldness" is a fairly broad category lumping together such reasons as getting up the courage to talk to one's teacher about something important, getting along with members of the opposite sex, or facing up to an older student. The categories of "stay calm/avoid anxiety" and "academic pressure" overlap and may even be identical. In the "other" category, some students mentioned using drugs as a sex substitute, to get even with their prefects or to be mischievous.

Frequency of drug use

In one of the samples some useful data were collected on drugs currently in use and on frequency of use. In the Sapele investigation, students were asked to check those drugs they had never tried (or perhaps did not recall having tried), drugs tried but discontinued, and drugs currently in use. Table 5 shows that the majority of the students have never tried any of the listed drugs. In the "tried but discontinued" category, the highest percentage registered is for alcohol. Perhaps because liquor is easily obtained there are many opportunities to taste it, without necessarily imbibing it on a regular and recurrent basis. If the categories "tried but discontinued" and "currently in use" are totalled across for each drug, it is clear that there is not a great deal of difference between the results here and those given (for all four samples) in table 2. Of those drugs currently in use, alcohol is the most widely used; very few students in this sample have acquired the habit of, smoking cigarettes, perhaps because this form of drug use does not yet have associated with it the positive cultural connotations that exist in many other societies.

Table 5

Percentages of drug use among male and female students in the Sapele sample

Drugs

Never used

Used but discontinued

Current use

Alcohol
60 21 19
Chlordiazepoxide/diazepam
85 5 10
Marijuana
92 2 6
Cigarettes
88 8 4
Mandrax (methaqualone + diphenhydramine)
93 4 3
Proplus (containing caffeine)
96 4 3
Other
93 4 3

Students currently using these drugs were then asked to state how often they used them. The results of the Sapele sample study indicated clearly that very few students were what could be called habitual users. Most of the users had a drink, smoked a "joint" or inhaled a cigarette occasionally; that is, several times a month or at most once or twice a week, most likely when they were relaxing with friends or enjoying a party; in other words, on those occasions when they were taking a break from their studies and normal school routines. For females, the use of these drugs was even more infrequent; very few took them on a more than weekly basis and, with the exception of chlordiazepoxide/diazepam, none did so on a near daily basis.

There is a kind of "coalescence of drug use" in which certain drugs tend to go together, For example, a student who drinks alcohol is also likely to be a person who smokes cigarettes. Hence it is important to know how many students use only one of the drugs listed, two of them, or three or more, These results, tabulated in table 6, show that males are almost equally split between single drug and two-drug users whereas females are almost invariably single drug users.

Table 6

Students using one and more than one drug by sex

(Sapele sample)

 

Single users of one drug

Two-drug users

Tree-drug users

 

Sex

Percentage

Number

Percentage

Number

Percentage

Number

Total

Male
43
21 a
45 22 12 6 49
Female
93
25 a
7 2
-
-
27

a aCigarette users are excluded from the tabulation (16 males and 1 female).

Concluding remarks

On the whole, secondary school students disapprove of most forms of drug use among their peers and very few of them actually use drugs regularly. In the present investigations no clear evidence emerged for the use of heroin, morphine and cocaine, and of the substances that have been isolated in these studies several (e.g. alcohol and cigarettes) are not usually looked upon as "drugs". Leaving these aside, one finds that chlordiazepoxide and diazepam are among the most frequently used drugs among students. But such drugs are legal and their use is linked to medical prescriptions in most cases. The evidence is therefore convincing that the stresses of secondary school adolescence, as they exist in the Bendel State of Nigerian society, have not resulted in wide-scale drug abuse. It would be useful to explore in depth the cultural attitudes and expectations regarding drug use among students in Nigerian society.

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