Information and alternatives: the role of a youth non-governmental organization in drug abuse control


The role of the World Assembly of Youth
Alcohol consumption among youth
Substance abuse among young persons
Concluding remarks


Author: M. GARVEY
Pages: 29 to 33
Creation Date: 1991/01/01

Information and alternatives: the role of a youth non-governmental organization in drug abuse control

M. GARVEY Project Director, World Assembly of Youth, Copenhagen, Denmark


The World Assembly of Youth (WAY), a non-governmental organization promoting the cultural and economic advancement of youth, includes in its programme activities the prevention of youth substance abuse and assistance to the large number of youth currently using drugs.

Recognizing that the problem stems from the user, WAY works to provide information and alternatives leading to a responsible decision on the part of youth regarding their consumption.


Over 2.5 billion persons, or 53 per cent of the world population, are under the age of 25. This age group constitutes more than 60 per cent of the total population in developing countries [1] .

Young persons are particularly susceptible to illicit drugs. Youth represents a period of curiosity, experimentation and learning that is essential and rewarding but also has its disadvantages for future development. It is in the formative years that the inquisitive and explorative nature of the young may lead them to drug misuse.

Such misuse is on the rise, and the age of initiation into the drug scene is becoming progressively lower. In Spain, for example, research indicates that drug abuse begins on average at age 15 [2] .

Youth organizations world wide are reporting that Governments and national and international agencies are currently devoting disproportionately more attention to the supply side of the drug abuse problem. Demand reduction is receiving little attention, and information, education and, thus, motivation programmes are severely limited in a number of countries.

It has to be recognized that the drug supply can be stifled only temporarily and that new avenues to reach consumers will always be found. While recognizing the importance of the supply side of the problem, the World Assembly of Youth (WAY) firmly believes that demand reduction is the key to the prevention, control and discouragement of drug abuse among youth. Its efforts therefore involve the participation of youth, at the grass-roots level, through various types of organizations and clubs, in order to influence young persons to take care to avoid substance use and abuse.

The role of the World Assembly of Youth

Founded in 1949, WAY is an international coordinating body of national youth councils and organizations throughout the world, with a current membership of 72 countries. Its goal is to facilitate increased communication and cooperation among its members in order to bring about the advancement of youth in various fields while taking into account socioeconomic and other local circumstances. Included in its programme of activities are a large number of workshops, training courses, conferences, consultations, contests and publications relating to managing substance abuse problems. Through these activities, WAY informs and educates youth leaders and provides young persons with an opportunity to help educate others.

Seeking to provide youth with the information and opportunity to direct and channel their energy positively and to choose a life free from drugs, WAY realizes that it is essential to work with others in attaining this goal. Cooperation is the backbone of its ideology. WAY develops its own programmes and its activities are planned and organized in close cooperation with its member organizations and other non-governmental organizations.

Alcohol consumption among youth

Alcohol continues to be popular among youth. Because the use of alcohol is widely accepted by many communities, many young persons begin or continue to abuse it, unaware of the danger it poses. Also, youth have relatively easy access to it, despite restrictive legislation. WAY feels that youth must be made to realize the hazards of alcohol; otherwise, they will continue to consume it in considerable amounts.

Alcohol abuse among youth worldwide is increasing, partly because of the opening of new consumer markets in developing countries. According to a study in Nigeria, for example, there was a 300 per cent increase in alcohol consumption within a 10-year period [3] and a substantial portion -of the consumers Were young persons. According to a study in Spain [4] , 94 per cent of secondary school students had consumed alcohol and 73 per cent had done so frequently. Moreover, the average age of initiation into alcohol consumption was 13-14.

Because of the general acceptance of alcohol in most cultures, its long-term effects, such as liver disease, ulcers, heart and circulatory disorders and brain damage, are often overlooked. In addition, its short-term effects, such as staggering, double vision and loss of balance, can be dangerous. When persons are under the influence of alcohol, the smallest obstacles may cause injury and the use of otherwise simple mechanical devices, such as automobiles, may result in death. Road accidents involving raised alcohol levels in the blood claim a large number of young lives every year [[5] , [6] ].

WAY recognizes that youth must decide themselves whether or not to use alcohol. Though others cannot make this choice for them, they can supply young persons with information about alcohol so that they can make a responsible decision.

Substance abuse among young persons

Nearly 400 Australian youth between the ages of 15 and 24 die each year of illegal drug use [7] . In the United States, 69 per cent of students in their final year of secondary school use alcohol and 40 per cent use multiple drugs [8] .

At a time when youth consumption of illegal drugs is on the rise, it is essential that youth involve and organize themselves against substance abuse. They must be armed with information and alternatives to drug misuse and experimentation.

One increasingly prevalent form of substance abuse among youth is inhalants. According to a study carried out at Mexico City [[9] ], 3 per cent of young persons between 14 and 24 years of age regularly abuse common household inhalants such as thinner and plastic cement. They may experience such immediate effects as moderate euphoria, disorientation or hallucinations; the long-term effects of such chemical abuse, however, include excessive liver damage, kidney haemorrhaging, gradual destruction of the bone marrow, seizures and coma. Some 300,000 students in Mexico are believed to be dependent on inhalants and other dangerous substances [10] .

As in all drug-related problems, an important countermeasure is the promotion of awareness. If youth are correctly and completely informed about drugs and the alternatives, fewer will choose to begin or continue abusing drugs.

In Turkey, it has been reported that many young persons consume psychoactive henbane plants and about 80 per cent of children use these plants in games and social activities [11] . The plants can result in intoxication, a comatose state or death.

The use of cannabis in some areas is traditional, as is reflected in its wide use, especially among young persons. According to one study, about 91 per cent of male secondary school students at Cairo had tried cannabis [121.

In Bolivia, 10 per cent of young persons between the ages of 9 and 20 are dependent on basuco[13] . Cocaine is becoming more affordable, more widely available and, thus, easier for young persons to obtain.

Heroin and other opiates are being misused by young persons to a larger extent throughout the world, particularly in Asia. Heroin abuse is a new phenomenon in Sri Lanka, where the average user begins misusing the drug at age 20, generally after having begun experimenting with other drugs at age 1 [14] . In India, about 60 per cent of the growing number of heroin-dependent persons are under the age of 25 [151. In an effort to remedy this situation, WAY has recently begun dealing with the problem of substance abuse among Asian youth through national consultations and youth training courses.

Concluding remarks

Being such a significant segment of society, the young are in a unique position to prevent the rampant spread of drug abuse. WAY seeks to make available to young persons the possibility of understanding drugs without abusing them.

Drug abuse can also be curbed by providing alternatives for the young. WAY involves young persons in development projects covering varied areas, including health care, environmental conservation, leadership training and income-generating schemes. While furnishing concrete activities for young persons, drug awareness is easily incorporated into " of these areas. These are only a sample of the many fields in which youth can be provided with alternative activities.

While pursuing principles that are applicable on a broader scale, prevention programmes should be designed to deal with the particular needs and problems of youth, as well as local circumstances. The design, execution and follow-up of such programmes should be a collaborative effort involving those whom the measures will affect. The entire concept of demand reduction should be based on reaching as large a portion of the youth population as possible in order to increase the likelihood that young individuals will choose to be drug-free. To that end, young persons and youth organizations have to be fully involved and a much greater investment in youth, their. education, development and environment must be made in order to contain the drug abuse problem.



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