Dr Ifeanacho Abireh


The effects of drug abuse and self medication on life expectancy

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Presented at the FUUGA Annual General Meeting, December, 2016


Dr. Abireh Ifeanacho, MBBS, MSc, PGDE, MWACS, MISSM


I thank you for coming to this important event organized by FUUGA. I noticed the present FUUGA leadership and members are now more focused on the aims and objectives of FUUGA. They have made education their priority. I think they deserve our appreciation and support more than ever, because they have decided to be at the battle front of a war that belongs to all of us.


I will try as much as possible to use terms that we will understand to talk about this issue. This presentation will give us better understanding of the following:


  1. Drug abuse
  2. Self Medication
  3. Life expectancy (in Ugwueme)
  4. The effects of 1 and 2 on 3 above.
  5. How to prevent 1 and 2 in order to improve 3.


Drug abuse

This is the use of drugs or substances in a particular way that the user consumes the drug in quantity that is harmful to him or others around him or uses a method which may be harmful to him and others to consume the drugs. In medicine, it is regarded as a disorder.


Self medication

This is the use of drugs to treat self diagnosed symptom or disease or the continued or occasional use of a prescribed drug for long term disorders or recurrent diseases.


Commonly abused drugs

Some drugs that are abused include alcohol; tobacco; drugs that make us sleep, such as ketamine, diazepam; drugs that can make us euphoric such as cocaine, marijuana; some drugs that reduces pain such as tramadol, pentazocine; some drugs used for treatment of cough such as chlorpheniramine; and others. Drugs commonly implicated in self medication are mainly over the counter drugs such as antibiotics, drugs for pain and fever, worm medications, cough syrups, multivitamins


Risk factors

The exact cause of drug abuse is not very clear, but it is thought that drug abuse and self medication is as a result of individual’s psychological condition. It does not occur by accident, because drugs abused are different for different individuals and serves them different purposes. Research is still on and some factors have been associated with the development of this abnormal behaviour. So the risk factors include:

  1. Genetic predisposition: research has shown that children of people who abuse drugs are likely to be involved in drug abuse. This is because substance abuse leads to changes in gene expression.
  2. Family: the kind of family a person comes from may make him abuse drugs. A family that is always fighting amongst themselves may produce children who abuse drugs because they see violence as a way of life and may need drugs to help them carry out some crime.
  3. Socialization: Children who are not allowed to play with other children may feel isolated and seek solace in substances.
  4. Peer group: it is important that the parents know who the child plays with or goes out with. He should know the friends of his child
  5. Socioeconomic status: low socioeconomic status predisposes one to drug abuse.
  6. Poor nutrition: this affects brain development. And affects the way we think.

Problems associated with drug abuse and self medication

Drug abuse and self medication can lead to health problems; social problems; injuries; unprotected sex( with HIV/AIDS, unwanted pregnancy, etc); violence; deaths; road traffic accidents; suicides (alcohol causes distortion in the brain chemistry), dependence, inadequate or wrong treatment of ailments, etc. It can present as a mental illness, psychiatric disorders, panic attacks, anxiety, mood changes and level of awareness

CAGE questionnaire: If you want to know if your alcohol intake is much, ask yourself the following questions and answer them.

  1. Have you ever felt the need to Cut down on your drinking?
  2. Have people Annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
  3. Have you ever felt Guilty about drinking?
  4. Have you ever felt you needed a drink first thing in the morning (Eye opener) to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover?

If you have answered two ‘yes’ in the above questions, it means you need to be investigated in the hospital for alcohol abuse.

Life expectancy

This is the statistical measure of the average time an organism (in this case, Human) is expected to live, based on the year of birth, their current age and other demographic factors including sex.

According to the World Health Organization (May, 2016), Nigeria has one of the lowest life expectancy in the world today, despite priding herself as the giant of Africa. The life expectancy in Nigeria is Fifty-five (55) years for females and fifty-four (54) years for males. We stand at 177th in the world. Just above 8 other countries of the world. This was attributed to health related issues, road traffic accident and others. We do not have any data on life expectancy in Ugwueme, but one can imagine what it is with the predominance of low socioeconomic status, absence of functional health facilities and schools, bad roads, malnutrition and cases of drug abuse and self medication. It will definitely be lower than 54 years.

Why then do we worsen our situation by self medication and drug abuse?

Research has shown that alcoholism lowers life expectancy by twelve (12) years and predisposes one to development of heart attack, diabetes, stroke lung disease, liver damage, gastrointestinal bleeding. Crime and violence are increased with alcohol and other substance consumption, leading the killings or disability thereby reducing life expectancy.


Drug abuse and self medication can lead to HIV/AIDS, unwanted pregnancy; violence; deaths; road traffic accidents; suicides (alcohol causes distortion in the brain chemistry), dependence, inadequate or wrong treatment of ailments, etc. All these reduce life expectancy.


Those who abuse drugs spend so much of their earnings on the drugs and only little or none is available for the education of their children or even to keep for their own future. When you do not educate a child, he finds education in the street and we may suffer from the outcome of the street education.


What do we do?

It is better and cheaper to stop someone from getting into drug abuse and self medication than to treat it because drug abuse leads to changes in structure and function of the brain. And these changes may be difficult to reverse. Those that are mostly affected are the adolescents, elderly (isolated), musicians and street children.


We must change our life style. Those of us involved in drug abuse and self medication must stop it, because if it becomes part of you it may be passed to your children through changes in gene expression.


We must try to build a family that is happy and devoid of unnecessary disagreements. This will help the younger ones to learn what is right. We must develop healthy relationship with our children. We must run away from child abuse.


We should allow our children to socialize, feel happy and become innovative. Isolation kills. We also have to go out and see how things are done elsewhere.


We must try, in fact, we must fight (in a good way) to increase our socioeconomic status. Being rich is not the exclusive right of a few. We can always get better if we work for it.


We must strive to eat good food. It is not expensive. Vegetables are everywhere, fish, beans, rice, egg, etc. we must not forget to drink plenty of water.


We have to come together again. We should create a community support system to help those who are in need. We have to infuse sense of community and togetherness to our children. No Agulese, No Obulo, No Eziama, only Ugwueme.


We can as a community equip our health centres and our primary and secondary schools, fix our roads and provide electricity for ourselves. This will improve our life expectancy.


Most of all, we MUST educate our children. Everybody from Ugwueme is naturally intelligent, so the least you should give an Ugwueme child is education.


Thank you.

Merry Christmas and Happy New year!


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