Drug Abuse and Mental Health

8 Min Read

By: Tanatswa Chikaura Mental Health Advocate

President Mnangagwa has set up an Inter-Ministerial Committee to tackle substance abuse among young people, following the increase in drug abuse amongst young people. This article highlights how drugs can affect your mental health. Drugs have been used for years, however, since the COVID-19 lockdown started the rate of substance abuse has greatly increased.

People do not understand why or how others become addicted to drugs. The common assumption is that people who have an addiction do not have any moral principles or desire to move away from drugs. However, drug addiction is a complex condition that requires more than desire to move away from it. Even if an individual wants to stop abusing drugs, the changes that happen to the brain during drug intake make it difficult to stop. Addiction is a chronic disease characterized by excessive intake of drugs without any control. It can lead to physical, social or emotional harm. Initially people voluntarily take drugs. However, repeated intake of drugs makes changes in the brain that challenges one’s self-control and ability to resist drugs.

So many people ask what happens when one takes drugs? Is it fun or exhausting- why do people continue to take drugs when there is evidence of the harm drugs can do? The brain has a reward system, which has a brain circuit that causes pleasure when it gets activated by something we enjoy such as being in love. When this brain circuit is activated, the brain notes that something important is happening that is worth remembering and repeating. Drugs affect the brain’s reward system; when one takes drugs he or she is likely to feel euphoria which reinforces drug intake making it a repeated action. The danger of this pleasure that comes from drugs is that it makes it difficult for one to enjoy other things that used to be enjoyable. For example, one may become irritated, annoyed or bored with love or social events. Additionally, one’s appetite or sleeping pattern may change. If one continuously takes drugs, the brain will form a tolerance for them. Once there is a tolerance for drugs, they will not provide the euphoria that was there in beginning. In an attempt to recreate the pleasure, people may take an overdose. Drugs change how the brain functions. It is the brain that guides how we feel, think, act or perceive situations. Drugs may make people unpredictable and impulsive, resulting in suicide thoughts for some.


In some cases, drugs may result in short term effects: experiencing pleasant feelings for minutes or hours. Conversely, drugs may have a come down effect on people making them feel low, depressed or anxious. Drug addiction may result in short or long term effects in the brain, which can lead to the following mental health conditions: depression, anxiety, hallucinations or paranoia. Drug abuse conditions occur more frequently with certain mental health conditions: depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and personality disorders. Moreover, substance abuse may trigger mental health conditions one did not know existed. Overtime drugs may strain relationships with family, colleagues or peers and in some cases people struggle to cope with the long term effects of drugs, leading to suicidal thoughts.

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The question is: What pushes someone young to find pleasure and solace in drugs? The youth are in their prime: it is a time to grow, love, socialize and set goals; therefore, it is a cause for concern when drugs become an escape for young people.

Young people from unstable or less fortunate backgrounds are the most vulnerable population who may use drugs as form of comfort from life’s troubles. Generally the changes brought by the pandemic have resulted in a highly stressful environment. Coupled, with a depleting economy, there is nearly 90% unemployment, with young people people being the most affected. Additionally, education has been disrupted by the pandemic. With the schools closed, young people are unproductive. Drugs may be used to escape troubles, relieve boredom or relax. Young Zimbabweans have been quoted by Chingono, 2021, saying that “drugs take them to another zone altogether.” Take note that people become addicted to drugs because they are desperate to change something about their lives. However, in looking for a solution in drugs; problems are created. The following factors may put someone at risk of experiencing negative mental health outcomes because of drugs:
• Starting drugs at a young age;
• Having a family history of mental health conditions;
• Using drugs frequently;
• and if you are currently experiencing mental health challenges.

Substance abuse is an epidemic on its on, as people we definitely should play a role to prevent it. When approaching a situation of drug addiction remember that addiction is a brain disease. A person with cancer requires the doctor’s treatment, as well as support from family and friends- this applies to an individual with an addiction condition. Simply saying “stop crystal meth” and giving off judgmental energy will not help. I hear a lot of comments such as “Irombe anongoita madrugs” meaning he is an imbecile who takes drugs- this language will not help us tackle this epidemic that is killing and ruining young people. Like I said earlier on people begin drugs to find an escape. It is not easy for someone to admit that his or her coping mechanism is not working. Therefore, if you want to support someone with a drug addiction problem you have to be patient, empathetic and supportive. If your friend or family member has a drug addiction problem you can support in the following way:

• Listen: Do not be judgmental when he or she is opening up about his or her drug addiction. Listen to what he or she has to say. Sometimes people just want an ear to listen;
• Share: Sometimes people might not know the effects of drugs. Inform and educate him or her on the consequences of drug abuse without being judgmental. Empathy is an important tool for sharing information;
• Encourage: Subtly encourage him or her to seek help from a doctor or therapist.

If you truly want to help, assure your friend or family member struggling with drug addiction that you are there for him or her. It is a big responsibility, therefore, as the helper you have to be consistent in your actions when helping one to recover. Substance abuse may be a second pandemic emerging in Zimbabwe, however, we can overcome it. Let us all practice empathy and kindness. Let us all support each other.


Twitter: @tana_chikaura
Instagram: @tana_chikaura
Facebook: @mentalhealthadvocate|Tana

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