In Summary
  • Luqman underwent therapy and counselling. He also changed his company of friends and quit all the WhatsApp groups which had influenced his behaviour through the years.
  • Mercy Wanjiru, the founder of Badili Maisha, says parents may do everything in their power to shield their children from exposure to substance abuse, but external factors play a huge role.

Luqman Ntarangwi was 16 when he first tasted alcohol and he assumed he could just quit when he wanted to.

It was, after all, all fun and games and it was just curiosity that made him take the first sip when his friend offered him vodka.

Luqman, 26, thought he was in control, but what he didn’t know is that the tiny sip was going to cost him his health, money, time, and even relationships.

He is just one of the many young people who have dealt with alcohol addiction, some successfully and others still struggling.

Surveys by the National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse describe alcohol as one of the most abused substances in Kenya.

As of 2017, 12.2 per cent of Kenyans between 15 and 65 years were actively taking alcohol.

Exposure to alcohol starts as early as 11 years among Kenyan children. In 2019, Nacada conducted a survey that sampled children from grades five to eight.

EASY ACCESS

Respondents mentioned alcohol as one of the most available drugs.

The survey also revealed that 7.9 per cent of pupils had tasted alcohol at some point in time.

While tasting alcohol may not be synonymous with addiction, it is often the genesis.

At the secondary school level, the statistics are even more shocking. Nacada conducted a survey in 2016 involving secondary school students in which alcohol still topped the list of most abused and available substances.

The survey revealed that over 40 per cent of students knew a friend or schoolmate who took alcohol.

Those who had tasted alcohol acquired it from friends, non-teaching staff, relatives, parents and teachers, or they bought it from bars and kiosks.

Simply put, alcohol is not so hard to find or buy among young students.

These alarming findings could explain why Luqman, the least likely student, ended up taking alcohol.

FIRM UPBRINGING

Luqman was born in Meru County. His childhood was idyllic. He attended Chogoria Complex, a primary school in Tharaka-Nithi County.

The school was founded on staunch Christian values which were to set him on the right path.

His mother was also quite strict, and he therefore barely strayed from the path of obedience.

“My mother raised me in such a way that I would never be late for anything. I was always the first pupil to arrive at school for about five years in a row,” he recalls.

As a Muslim, he attended Madrassa classes, where he learned about good morals and the importance of maintaining good company.

Besides, alcohol is regarded as haram in the Koran. All these factors combined formed the perfect recipe for a bright future.

He even had a pen pal from Scotland, the ideal way to network at a tender age.

“My fondest memory was back in Class Six when we toured the Rift Valley for a week, with our visiting pen pals from Queensbury School, Edinburgh, Scotland,” he recalls.

EXTERNAL PRESSURES

He later joined Ikuu Boys High School. His high school days were filled with fun, learning, and experimenting.

And he was quite athletic. He played basketball alongside his classmates, and at some point, their class won crates of bread for winning a game.

He was destined for success. But why did he accept to taste the alcohol?

According to Mercy Wanjiru, an International Certified Addiction Professional at Support For Addiction Prevention And Treatment In Africa (SAPTA), and the founder of Badili Maisha, parents may do everything in their power to shield their children from exposure to substance abuse, but external factors play a huge role.

While Luqman seemed to be on the right path, he was dealing with peer pressure. The media was also shaping him.

“We used to watch movies [and television] series like "Blue Mountain State", which encouraged reckless behaviour. Besides, drinking alcohol seemed so cool at the time,” he says.

"Blue Mountain State" is a comedy series based on American college football life. It depicts college students engaging in drinking games, sex and football. There are barely scenes of class lectures despite being set in a college.

ROAD TO ADDICTION

In one of the scenes, students play “beer pong” - which entails throwing a tiny ball into a beer cup.

If the ball falls into the beer cup, the cup owner has to drink the beer and the thrower makes new rules.

At some point, one of the throwers asks everyone present for the game to strip everything except their innerwear.

The series clearly deviates from normal college life while focusing on students’ side shows.

As Wanjiru explains, other factors that expose children and teenagers to alcohol include cultural practices, such as drinking during ceremonies, living in an environment where adults drink frequently or where access to alcohol is easy.

She further explains that the road to addiction starts with only one sip. “Depending on an individual’s first experience with alcohol, some will drink again, while others will find it distasteful and avoid it altogether,” she says.

Interestingly, Luqman describes his first sip as very bitter. “It burned, all the way to the liver. But I still wanted to fit in, so I drank again,” he explains.

Wanjiru adds that it’s quite easy to notice the signs of a loved one sinking into alcohol abuse.

ADDICTION STAGES

In Luqman’s case, rumours started doing rounds that the once good boy was breaking bad.

At first, his mother was in denial, given that Luqman was quite bright so she assumed he would know better.

However, his bad company of friends was giving him away. “Hell broke loose when I passed out at the entrance of our home, very late at night immediately after high school. I literary blacked out after a drinking spree and that’s how my mother found out I was drinking,” he narrates.

Like any other parent, she took steps to help her only son. “My mother would call upon friends, religious leaders and relatives, especially my grandfather, to counsel me,” says Luqman.

From high school, Luqman proceeded to Moi University. He had managed to score a good grade that earned him a spot at a Graphics Design and Communications class.

His entry into university did not just mark his first step to a career in the arts, i also paved way for addiction.

As Wanjiru explains, addiction is a process that takes place in five stages. The first stage is known as experimentation.

“Ordinarily, when someone tastes alcohol, the brain releases pleasure hormones which act as a reward,” says Wanjiru.

“If the feeling is too good, someone might be tempted to try again and again and soon they enter the second phase of addiction - which is known as the social stage.”

“People at the second stage tend to drink occasionally in the company of friends. It could be a Friday affair or drinking during parties,” she explains.

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