It’s tempting to blame alcoholism and drug addiction within a society on any number of things: liberal attitudes, cultural exposure through media, emphasis on individual freedom of choice, an ethos that includes “a right to feel good”—all these and more can be pointed to as society’s collective responsibility for alcohol and drug problems. And these, of course, entirely leave aside the issue of poverty, as well as other mental health issues and policies.
Now, consider a nation with harshly conservative attitudes, censored media, and a culture centered around a state-sponsored religion with a fundamentalist bent, and try to explain a drug and alcohol problem in the same light.
Saudi Arabia is experiencing a substance-abuse problem to the extent that compulsory drug testing is being considered. A judge in the city of Jeddah points to the recent explosion in divorce rates (over 500 a month recently) stemming from alcohol and drug use and the subsequent abuse of wives. Speed, in the form of Captagon (a Ritalin-like stimulant) has reached epidemic proportions in some areas. Hashish, alcohol, and heroin are also abused. All of these are highly illegal and possession could lead to imprisonment or the death penalty.
Interestingly, according to an article from the Department of Neurosciences at King Faisal Hospital, “Peer pressure and psychosocial stresses were risk factors for initiation as well as relapse of substance abuse. Anxiety, depression . . . were the most common co-morbid disorders.”
So, the common factors, across societal boundaries, appear to be peer pressure, stress, anxiety, and depression. Once these are present, and a particular substance or combination of substances offers temporary relief, self-medication and repetition follow, along with a high risk for addiction. As long as the underlying factors are relieved, they don’t get addressed in their own right and eventually become aggravated and more difficult to find relief from, hence the cycle of addiction.
For those caught in the progressive grip of addiction—can’t moderate and can’t abstain altogether—help is available through treatment. Medical detox may be necessary, after which the addict must learn how to face and be free from the underlying factors of addiction.