Substance abuse in Nigeria: What you need to know


By: Grace Chukwuekwu, Freelance writer and DatelinehealthAfrica Volunteer with editorial support from the Datelinehealth Africa Team



Dried cannabis and wraps for smokingKEY FACTS

  • Cannabis is the most commonly used illegal substance in Nigeria, with about 10.6% of the population having used it in their lifetime.


  • Younger people, men, and those with lower levels of education were more likely to use cannabis.


  • One in five people who used drugs in the past year has a substance use disorder.


  • Over 14.3 million Nigerians between the ages of 15 and 64 abuse drugs, according to the Nigerian National Drug Use Survey conducted in 2018.


  • Common sources of procurement include pharmacies/patent medicine shops, open markets, underground agents, family members, friends, and fellow drug abusers. 







Substance abuse is a significant public health issue in Nigeria, with a substantial impact on individuals, families, and communities. The abuse of substances such as alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs, including cannabis, cocaine, and heroin, is widespread in Nigeria, particularly among young people.


Addressing the public health impact of substance abuse in Nigeria requires a multifaceted approach that includes prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation. This approach must involve partnerships between government agencies, healthcare providers, community organizations, and individuals. Prevention strategies include education and awareness campaigns, regulation of the sale of drugs, and restrictions on access to substances. Treatment and rehabilitation services should be accessible and affordable, and support networks must be available to those in recovery.



Definition of substance abuse


The World Health Organisation (WHO)  defines substance abuse as the harmful or hazardous use of psychoactive substances, including alcohol and illicit drugs. 


Such use is usually excessive and compulsive, despite the negative consequences it may have on the life of the user; such as physical health problems, social and relationship issues, and problems at work or school. Substance abuse is a serious public health issue as it can lead to addiction and long-term negative effects. 



A brief overview of the situation in Nigeria


The UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) conducted a Nigeria Cannabis Survey titled "2019 Baseline Assessment in Six States" to determine the prevalence and patterns of cannabis use in Nigeria. The states included in the study were Adamawa, Borno, Edo, Lagos, Ondo, and Osun. 

Cannabis leaves

The study found that cannabis is the most commonly used illegal substance in Nigeria, with about 10.6% of the population having used it in their lifetime. Younger people, men, and those with lower levels of education were more likely to use it. Most users consumed cannabis for recreational purposes, with only a small fraction using it for medical reasons. 


The study also identified easy access to the drug, cultural acceptance, and lack of awareness about its negative health effects as reasons for the high usage of cannabis in Nigeria.


A different study found that opioids (including tramadol), codeine cough syrup, and benzodiazepines were also commonly used substances in Nigeria. However, in recent years there has been an increase in the use of synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine and cocaine.


In the Nigerian National Drug Use Survey conducted in 2018, it was reported that over 14.3 million Nigerians between the ages of 15 and 64 abuse drugs.



Types of substances commonly abused in Nigeria


The Types of substances commonly abused in Nigeria include:

Cannabis (Marijuana): Cannabis is the most commonly abused drug. It is mostly smoked in hand-rolled cigarettes or mixed with tobacco.


Opioids: Opioids such as tramadol and codeine. These drugs are prescription painkillers but are often obtained illegally.


Cocaine: Cocaine is a highly addictive stimulant drug that is also abused. It is usually snorted or smoked.


Heroin: Heroin is another highly addictive drug that is abused. It is usually injected intravenously.


Alcohol: Alcohol is also commonly abused. It is consumed in various forms, including beer, spirits, and locally brewed beverages.


Tobacco: Tobacco is also widely consumed, with cigarettes being the most common form.



Health Effects of Substance Abuse in Nigeria


The abuse of substances can have serious physical, mental, social, and economic consequences, as described below:


Physical health effects of substance abuse in Nigeria

Some of the serious physical health effects on the consumer include:


Liver Damage: Many substances, such as alcohol, cocaine, and heroin, can cause liver damage with long-term use. This can lead to liver disease, including cirrhosis and hepatitis.


Heart Disease: such as heart attacks and irregular heartbeats. Stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine can also cause high blood pressure and an increased risk of stroke.


Respiratory Problems: Smoking tobacco or marijuana can cause respiratory problems such as chronic bronchitis and lung cancer.


Malnutrition:  Many individuals who abuse drugs or alcohol may neglect their health and proper nutrition.


Infectious Diseases: Intravenous drug use, such as injecting heroin, can lead to the transmission of infectious diseases such as HIV and hepatitis.


Sexual and Reproductive Health Problems: Substance abuse can lead to high-risk sexual behaviors and sexual dysfunction, such as decreased libido, and infertility. High-risk sexual behaviours predispose to an increased risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).


Mental health effects of substance abuse in Nigeria

Common mental health effects of substance abuse in Nigeria include:


Depression and Anxiety: Alcohol and other substance use can interfere with brain chemistry and lead to changes in mood, leading to depressive and anxiety symptoms.


Psychosis: Prolonged use of substances like cannabis, amphetamines and cocaine can cause symptoms such as hallucinations (seeing or hearing things that are not there), delusions (persistence in holding beliefs or alternative reality despite evidence to the contrary), disordered thinking. These symptoms are features of a severe mental disorder that affects a person's ability to perceive reality known as psychosis.


Cognitive Impairment: Chronic substance abuse can impair cognitive function (i.e., brain based skills needed for the acquisition of knowledge, analysis of information and reasoning). The impairment may cause memory loss, attention deficits, and decreased ability to make decisions.


Increased Risk of Suicide: People who struggle with substance abuse often experience feelings of hopelessness, despair and isolation, which can increase the risk of suicidal ideation and attempts.


Addiction: This is a chronic, relapsing brain disease that alters the brain's reward system. Addiction can lead to a range of negative consequences, including impaired social functioning, financial problems, work and legal issues.



Social and economic effects of substance abuse in Nigeria

Substance abuse has several social and economic effects in Nigeria. Here are some of them:


Increased Crime Rate: The statement “drug abuse is an index of all crimes” implies that drug abuse is a major factor in criminal behavior. Research shows that substance abuse can increase the likelihood of criminal activity due to impaired judgment, reduced inhibition, and increased aggression.


Reduced Work Productivity: Substance abuse can lead to reduced work productivity, absenteeism, and increased workplace accidents. 


Health Care Costs: Substance abuse can lead to increased healthcare costs due to the treatment of substance abuse-related illnesses and injuries.


Family Disruption: Substance abuse can lead to divorce, separation, and child neglect. This can have a significant impact on the well-being of children and can lead to increased costs for social welfare services.


Spread of Diseases: Substance abuse can lead to the spread of communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis B and C, and other sexually transmitted infections when sharing needles and having casual sex.



Predisposing Factors for Substance Abuse in Nigeria


There are several risk factors for substance abuse in Nigeria, including:


Peer Pressure: Individuals who are part of social groups where substance abuse is normalized or encouraged are at an increased risk of using drugs and alcohol.


Gender: Men are more likely to engage in substance abuse than women in Nigeria.


Stress and Trauma: Individuals may turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with emotional pain and stress.


Genetics: Individuals with a family history of addiction are at a higher risk of developing a substance abuse disorder.


Environmental Factors: Poverty, lack of education, and unemployment can increase the risk of substance abuse. Individuals who experience these factors may turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with their circumstances.


Availability: Individuals who have easy access to drugs and alcohol are more likely to use them.


Mental Health Disorders: Depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder can increase the risk of substance abuse. Individuals may turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to self-medicate and cope with their symptoms.


Cultural Acceptance: In some Nigerian cultures, the use of substances such as alcohol, tobacco, and cannabis is socially acceptable and considered a normal part of social gatherings and celebrations. This cultural acceptance can contribute to the normalization of substance use and increase the likelihood of substance abuse.


Lack of Treatment Facilities: Individuals who want to quit using drugs may not have access to the resources such as rehabilitation facilities they need to recover.


Coping Skills for Substance Abuse in Nigeria


Coping skills are strategies that individuals can use to manage and reduce the negative effects of substance abuse.


Here are some coping skills for substance abuse in Nigeria:


Developing a support network: Building a supportive network of family, friends, and professionals can provide encouragement and accountability in the recovery process.


Cartoon illustration of types of exercise Engaging in healthy activities: Engaging in regular physical exercise, mindfulness practices, and other hobbies or interests can help to reduce stress and promote overall well-being.


Using relaxation techniques: Techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga can help to reduce stress and promote relaxation.


Seeking professional help: Seeking help from a healthcare professional, such as a therapist or counselor, can provide additional support and guidance in the recovery process.


Setting goals: Setting achievable goals and focusing on making positive changes can help to provide a sense of purpose and direction in the recovery process.


Reframing negative thoughts: When faced with the temptation to use drugs or alcohol, it can be helpful to reframe negative thoughts and remind oneself of the negative consequences of substance abuse. For example, one could remind themselves of the health risks, social and legal consequences, or impact on relationships.


Developing assertiveness skills: Learning to say no to invitations to use drugs or alcohol and setting personal boundaries can help individuals to resist substance abuse. Assertiveness skills can be developed through therapy, counseling, or self-help resources.


Existing public health interventions for the control of substance abuse in Nigeria


Several public health interventions exist in Nigeria to address substance abuse. Some of these include:


National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA): The NDLEA is responsible for coordinating drug control activities in Nigeria. The agency works to prevent the production, trafficking, and use of illicit drugs.


Drug Abuse Control Program (DACP): The DACP is a program established by the Nigerian government to address drug abuse in the country. The program includes public education campaigns, treatment and rehabilitation services, harm reduction programs, and enforcement of drug laws.


Others: Various organizations are also involved in drug abuse control programming in Nigeria. These include governmental, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), International organizations (UNODC, WHO), and healthcare providers.


Challenges to Substance Abuse Control in Nigeria

There are several challenges to substance abuse control in Nigeria. Some of these challenges include:


Weak Legal Framework: The laws that are in place to regulate the production, distribution, and use of drugs are outdated and ineffective, making it difficult for law enforcement agencies to effectively curb drug abuse.


Corruption: When drug barons can bribe or otherwise corrupt drug enforcement officers, they can avoid detection and continue to profit from their illegal activities.


Limited Resources: The NDLEA, which is responsible for drug control activities in Nigeria, is often hampered by limited resources, such as funding, equipment, and personnel. This makes it difficult for the agency to carry out its mandate effectively.


Stigma: Substance abuse is often stigmatized, which makes it difficult for people struggling with addiction to seek help. 


Lack of Public Awareness: Many people, especially young people, are unaware of the risks associated with drug abuse and may engage in it without understanding the consequences.


Inadequate Treatment and Rehabilitation Centers: This means that many people who need help are unable to access it, making it difficult to break the cycle of addiction.





Substance abuse has significant public health impact in Nigeria, affecting individuals, families, and communities. The use of illegal drugs, alcohol and tobacco poses significant health risks, including mental health problems, infectious diseases, and chronic illnesses. Addressing substance abuse in Nigeria requires a comprehensive approach that includes prevention, treatment, and enforcement efforts. By implementing these interventions, it is possible to reduce the prevalence and impact of substance abuse on the overall health and well-being of Nigerians.




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Published: March 27, 2023.

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