By an LAU Tribune staff
Ziad wakes up every day on time for class, gets good grades on exams, and studies on most nights. After school, he normally spends time with friends and family.
The young communication arts major seems like your average university student except that, once every few days, he makes a call on his cell phone and meets his dealer across town to get a fix. If he’s unable to reach the man, Ziad tries a local pharmacy that agrees to sell him pain killers.
Ziad is physically dependent on opiates. Though cases like his are few, drug addiction remains a real problem some students on the LAU campus face today.
“I’ve recently been to university high on heroin and pain killers,” Ziad, whose name has been changed for the purpose of this article, said. “I’ve been high whilst taking tests.”
The young man explained that, at the moment, he is only taking opiates but he has occasionally used LSD, cocaine, weed/hash, and Ketamine.
“I’ve never been suspected of drug use by my professors or anything, but I was recently close to getting caught,” Ziad laughed as he admitted. “I was doing coke one day in the bathroom and didn’t shut the door properly.”
The young man said he bought substances from a fellow student at LAU but insisted that the dealer in question is no longer attending classes here.
A 2009-2010 study by Skoun, and other NGOs fighting drug addiction in Lebanon, showed that the age of drug addicts admitted at rehabilitation centers ranged from 18 to 34. Around 97 percent of those are male and only 3 percent are female. Around 12 percent are university students.
In 2010, opiates were reported as the most common drugs patients sought treatment for. Next came cannabis, followed by cocaine.
Tala, a radio/TV/film major, shared with us the way she used drugs while at LAU. “I’ve been on ketamine, and I’ve even tripped on LSD,” she said. “I actually managed to get through a presentation in English 102 while on the drug; this happened about one year ago.”
Tala, whose name has been changed, smoked joints in public at one point but has now stopped doing so. “I also don’t use psychedelics anymore. Right now I’m just doing a lot of painkillers,” she admitted. “I’m trying to get off it but it’s been hard.”
Osama Makarem, a drug counselor who majored in addiction psychology at London’s South Bank University, believes many students have tried drugs, but he differentiated between recreational users and those who actually have an addiction to a substance.
Makarem explained that, according to medical studies, addiction is a genetic disease. “An addict’s brain is wired differently,” he said. “Such people genuinely cannot stop for deeper reasons.”
The National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) confirms that “addiction is a genetic disease triggered by environmental factors.”
Although both Ziad and Tala got away with drug use, even during exams, most drug addicts cannot always manage as easily, especially at the academic level.
Depending on the nature of the drug, addiction may cause loss of motivation, anxiety, depression, paranoia and schizophrenia as well as panic attacks. It affects one’s concentration and attention span.
On a more physical level, drugs may cause heart attacks, liver and kidney problems, breathing problems and/or cancer.
Makarem has recently stopped working in the field because of the emotional difficulty involved.
The drug counselor said that the majority of Lebanese patients seeking help do so to fight heroin addiction. “A gram of heroin in Lebanon can go for as cheap as 10 dollars. In London, a gram is at least 6 times the price,” he said.
According to collective studies in Lebanon, 6 in 10 patients visiting NGOs for treatment of substance dependence have used an illegal substance by means of injection.
“I would shoot up on campus. I used to shoot up on average once or twice a day,” said Elias, as he described his drug use habits at LAU two years ago. “I would do it in the bathrooms of Nicol, but the ones I liked the most were the library’s and the top of Irwin because they were the most private.”
Elias, who did not want to use his real name, is a current student at LAU and an ex heroin addict who had been on and off of heroin for six years.
When asked why he insisted to use LAU’s bathrooms, he explained that the drug wore off, creating an urgent need for more substance consumption. But Elias also admitted it was a weird fetish as he enjoyed shooting in public bathrooms.
Elias has been clean for two years and says he just takes it day by day.
Osama Makarem believes that one of the most effective ways to overcome addictions is to attend anonymous support groups, also known as narcotics anonymous, where they will share stories and learn about steps to cope with difficulties.
“Addicts can go to rehab and go to a detox to get clean, but that doesn’t mean they will stay off of drugs,” he said. “They need to learn how to deal with problems.”
The administration at LAU has posted banners warning students against drug addiction and detailing its drawbacks. It also provides free counseling services to help students deal with personal problems.
Makarem recommended universities such as LAU should have private support groups to help students get off drugs.
“It would have to be very private, and have to be run by other students who are ex-addicts themselves,” he said. “It’s a lot easier for someone to confide in a fellow student rather than in an authority figure.”
Elias, who struggled for a while to stay clean, said he only found the strength to quit on his own. People around him made that a possibility. “I always wanted to quit, I just felt weak. Only my family and friends made me feel stronger and better than that,” Elias said.
Of interest: http://tribunelau.com/2012/03/12/high-destinations/