Is socialisation promoting the drug culture in Pakistan?

Published: August 5, 2015
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A group of Pakistani drug addicts squats in the basement of a building in Rawalpindi on the outskirts of the capital Islamabad. PHOTO: AFP

In a culture such as ours, where issues such as mental disorders or instances where individuals require professional help are shamed and kept under wraps, it is highly unlikely that drug-related matters would be discussed openly.

Pakistan is a thriving nation, a developing country that knows the value of hard work and perseverance. Not only is a large chunk of our population employed, but 63 per cent of that population is under the age of 24 years.

Given the world’s current economic situation, it is also not hard to imagine the kind of everyday stresses the working population faces, or even the student body that toils away and puts in their sweat and blood into their academic achievements. With the subcontinent’s culture focusing heavily on educational excellence, no matter what the price, it is easy to see why drugs are a source of de-stressing for a large proportion of the younger population.

The drug culture is clearly prevalent in our society, not just in the younger, but the older generation as well. We always hear stories of people falling prey to alcoholism, or socialising with the wrong crowd and eventually steering off the path they set out on, but in essence, all the stories are the same, never concentrating on the real culprit of these situations.

It is this very taboo nature of drugs which ensures they are never mentioned openly when discussing such matters, and that, when talking of someone’s misfortunes, we tend to blame their circumstances instead of their behaviour. However, to trace the origins of drug culture in Pakistan, we must explore its source and means of entering the nation.

As per a 2013 report from United Nations Office of Drug Control (UNODC), 4.25 million Pakistanis are using drugs and the majority of these users are men, ranging from the ages of 16 to 60.

As one can imagine, these individuals are mostly from underprivileged backgrounds, where unemployment is prevalent, along with vices like alcohol, gambling, and so on. Drugs have infiltrated into Pakistan through the back roads of the Pak-Afghan border, where poppy fields flourish.

The 80s Afghan war and the consequent militancy allowed the export of illicit drugs, along with militant ideology. If one knew where to look, the militant warlords exchanged opium as currency to buy arms and ammunition, which led to the infiltration of drugs in Pakistan.  According to the UNODC annual report, Afghanistan remains on the top spot as the world’s principal opium provider, among other drugs, and it is unfortunate that the gates of trade open right into Pakistan, allowing for drugs to make their way into the nooks and crannies of the nation.

It is not only individuals who are downtrodden, who eventually turn to drug use, there are a great number of recreational users too, who go with the psyche of ‘trying everything once’, which eventually results in them falling prey to this menace, since they crave for the experience again and again, and thus falling into a vicious cycle.

One university student puts it simply as,

“It’s an experience, and it only adds to the thrill when it’s a session with friends.”

As can be imagined, many young students wish to fully utilise their college days and have fun, hence, they turn to recreational drugs. Although the concept sounds harmless enough, the impressionable mind of the youth also falls prey to peer pressure in terms of drug usage.

One such medical student relates his experience when he lost intake control due to his own actions,

“I knew what I was doing the whole time, and all the good times aside, the effect it had on my studies was only evident once I realised all my peers were moving forward with their plans and I was stuck. I didn’t stop to think why I got addicted and my friends didn’t, all that mattered to me was that it was my time that got wasted, not theirs.”

Recreational drug use makes its way into colleges and universities through a word-of-mouth trade. Private parties are often a breeding ground for the circulation of drugs. In the current scenario, this is highly evident as a large number of students are unable to achieve good grades, and eventually drop out, much like the case in western societies.

It also becomes quite difficult to ascertain or regulate the flow of these drugs, as more and more students fall to despair and get addicted to certain substances.

Street children who are spread all around the metropolitan cities of Pakistan are known to be frequent drug users, with an appallingly large number dying due to malnutrition and the strong use of drugs.

Given that the society views these individuals as deviant and not patients who require help and support, these addicts are generally left to their own devices. Improper handling of these issues adds to their misery. Even our society shuns them, causing a downward spiral for these individuals. Due to these reasons, these individuals become entirely fixated on getting their next fix, thus crossing over to the dark side of crimes and drug abuse.

Pakistan has thus played a strong role, as both a means for global drug trafficking and for holding a large percentage of demand and supply for drugs. Drug lords that once originated from Afghanistan are now slowly passing on the torch to Pakistani individuals, normalising drug use in metropolitan cities, not just among the underprivileged but the educated as well. Universities and colleges around the nation house frequent to mild drug users, and the numbers are alarming at medical universities especially.

Traditionally, it was the institution of strong families that acted as a source of rigid control over the use of drugs amongst youngsters, as they provided the mental and emotional support required by individuals to stay healthy. Fighting addiction is also easily done if the right kind of familial and emotional support is available. However, as time evolves, family values are evolving as well and taking on a new face, and now there is a strong sense of personal achievement that overrides familial loyalty. This leads to a commitment to values other than family life, and eventually leads to the widespread usage of drugs.

However, this concept can readily be changed, if healthier habits are encouraged at home from the very beginning. A disturbed family life usually leads to other forms of mental and psychological issues, but if families allow for a good and healthy dialogue between the young and the elderly, drug addiction can be curbed or for that matter completely eradicated.

Socialisation is one of the most important factors that can get rid of the drug culture in Pakistan, and a strong sense of awareness and generosity for those who require help and support.

Turning a blind eye to all that is harmful will never help the nation work its way towards prosperity and greatness, as there truly are no shortcuts when it comes to curbing drug use in a nation.

Mohammed Raza

Mohammed Raza

A media Enthusiast ..... Working Journalist...... Keenly follows Pakistani Politics & current affairs.Ex-Producer Express News & currently a Media Planner at Zentih Optimedia International /Adcom Pakistan. He tweets as @inforaza87.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Sami

    Our Armed forces should launch a massive action against drug dealers after the Taliban menace. Most of these drugs are originating from Afghanistan and FATA. There drugs are destroying our generation and sellers of such items should be dealt with iron hands. .Recommend

  • Chawal

    Those drug lords are protected by people in high places throughout Pakistan. Barely a handful of people acted against them. Drugs in FATA and destruction of a generation and this blithe of terrorism all go back to Zia ul Haq who singlehandedly ruined the country. Now General Raheel is cleaning house. Just recently he had a meeting at the ANF HQ.Recommend

  • nishantsirohi123

    Lack of alcohol availability is one reason

    Pakistan black market economy survives on opium trade from Afghanistan Recommend