When people say that the human mind and the brain are two sides of a coin, they are not far from the truth. As an organ, the brain facilitates the functions of the mind. And we know that whatsoever alters the function of the brain affects the mind.
Also, the chemicals that facilitate human behaviour through the brain and allied structures are regulated by a physiological system that does not require supply from extraneous sources, except when drugs are prescribed to treat an ailment.
Every society has had to grapple with the fundamental human need for meaning, pleasure and motivation. I think that what separates us from animals is that our brain, which facilitates the functions of the mind, also has sophisticated needs.
In adolescence, the mind acquires an abstractive appetite, with hypothetic- deductive reasoning when ideas are tested in the environment and feedbacks are analysed for the purpose of modifying human behaviour. This exercise is not without its frustrations, which is the most outstanding challenge across life span.
When we have adjusted to the rhythm of life, the biological clock helps to make available appropriate chemicals from the innate store to fulfil these psychic needs. When there is an experience of low feeling, human beings mount coping strategies that could be mystical or religious or the abuse of drugs. We have various brands of alcohol and other substances capable of modulating the brain to give a transient experience of fulfilment, release and energy.
Some drugs are obtained over the counter and misused, especially for sleep and for temporary escape from the challenges of life. Marijuana is one of the most popular and the age of initiation is as low as nine years.
Other local substances in the rural areas, which are not in the NDLEA gazette of abused drugs, can excite the normal functions of the brain just like some slow it down with various experiences in the mind. These substances, no doubt, can induce a temporary feeling of energy and fulfilment at the risk of causing severe damage to the same organ that is vital to our existence and survival.
They are also capable of causing mental illness, even when there is no such history in the family.
Drug addiction is the factor that lures a certain percentage of our youths into armed robbery and wild adventures. A good number of early school drop-outs can be associated with drug addiction. A reasonable number of HIV-AIDS cases are due to acts of sexual recklessness under the influence of these drugs.
Violence, whether political, religious or ethnic, is fuelled by drug abuse, especially marijuana, which makes their targets appear like ants. Routes of administration, especially when injected, can cause the infection of vital organs, just as HIV-AIDS infection can be spread through the sharing of needles.
Technically, any substance that impairs our judgment and renders us incapable of fulfilling our basic social roles to self, family and the society in general is dangerous.
Alcohol consumption is gradually becoming a big issue, especially in the context of our current socio- economic situation, one in which an increasing number of heads of families deposit a sizeable amount of their salaries at the beer parlour before thinking of school fees, house rents or medical bills. Such folks continue to drink even against their doctor’s advice.
A good number of car accidents are preventable if drivers can abstain from the use of drugs, especially alcohol. Some top-level government decisions are taken under the influence of drugs with attendant grave consequences for generations unborn. Marital conflicts with attendant physical assault are very common when a partner escapes into the use of drugs in coping with the marriage.
Parenting becomes impaired as children grow unsupervised and become vulnerable to pressure from their peers, which eventually links them with the drug culture.
Even as a reasonable amount of wealth is acquired, a child that is hooked on drugs will squander it to satisfy his craving. The challenge of drug addiction is that the victim will always require an increasing amount of the substance to stay ‘high’.
Prevention is the keyword and the most vulnerable period is adolescence, although some start in midlife or at some other stages in life. Parents need to be alert to abrupt changes in the behaviour of their children who may start withdrawing from family discussions, make new but strange friends, become more argumentative, come home late and disobey simple instructions.
Teachers can also watch out for drug groups and institute counselling as soon as possible. Sound religious instruction as an adaptive coping mechanism for life challenges is indispensable. There will always be a need for established cases to be referred to mental health experts because they will need immediate intervention as they can become very dangerous to self, family and society at large.