Left Behind In Pain: Extent and Causes of Stigma Among Addicted Women In Contemporary Kenyan Society.

Left Behind In Pain: Extent and Causes of Stigma Among Addicted Women In Contemporary Kenyan Society.

Odhiambo Donpaul

Blue Cross Kenya.

Excessive or unhealthy consumption of alcohol and other substances appears to be a major obstacle to the health, social and economic development in Kenya and has been an obstacle to the achievement of the third medium-term plan and an issue worth paying attention to in the fourth medium-Term plan aimed at achieving Kenya’s economic development goals in 2030. The number and frequency of deaths due to the consumption of adulterated alcoholic beverages has reached an alarming level, with many victims even losing their sight after consumption. Findings on drug use show that more than half of the population has used alcohol or an addictive substance at some point in their lives. The latest alcohol situation assessment also revealed that only 43 percent of Kenyans abstained from alcohol and drugs in their lifetime, with lifetime prevalence analysis showing that alcohol and tobacco were the most prevalent substances.

Although many women start using alcohol and other drugs as a way of self-medicating and dealing with social pressures, they have encountered discrimination and isolation with fear of relapse among those trying to escape the traps of addiction. Society has certain perceptions about what is normal and what is not. People who are considered different from “normal” are stigmatised, seen as deviant and often marginalised. Women addicts who are mothers face even more stigma. However, they try to prove themselves by highlighting the more positive aspects of their identity while trying to hide the aspect that is stigmatising. Stigmatization has made them feel insecure and they often turn to people similar to them (other stigmatised individuals) for social support. Social stigma against alcohol and other drug addiction has been a barrier to solving problems or even coming up with a strategy to deal with the problem of addiction among these women. The increased stigmatisation of drug users presents several obstacles for women as they try to get their lives back to “normal”, often without sufficient support, resources or guidance. It has led to a negative impact on health and psychological well-being and also led to social isolation and alienation. Addiction comes with increased exposures to gender-based violence among women, reduction in self esteem and to a great extent leads to social vices and HIV/AIDS. Attempts to reduce the stigma associated with drug use and to eliminate discriminatory attitudes towards drug users, especially by health professionals and law enforcement agencies, should be considered key to encouraging users to seek the necessary care. It is imperative to sit down and think about intervention paths with a clear answer to the disturbing concerns; not limited to how these women in a stigmatised state maintain their self-esteem, how they fit into the mainstream society while using illegal drugs, how they live with the identity of an ex-drug user after being exposed as a drug user, the types of treatment and resources available to them to recover, whether these interventions are effective, how being a drug user or a recovered drug user affects their role as mothers to those with children and how the perception of normalcy affects each phase of their drug use.

Although several of these addicted women believe that the treatment services offered in rehabilitation centres are beneficial, others see religion as a form of social control that works for them. Religion may have provided a social environment that offered access to a new social group and support for their new way of life, but still not all women embrace religious beliefs. Online alcohol marketing is still on the rise, with the increasing availability of illegal and cheap alcohol and less restrictions on the sale of alcohol and other substances. Peer pressure among young women draws more into the dungeon of addiction. However, on this World Drug Day, we reflect on the efforts made in the pursuit of sober communities, especially among women. We reflect on the lessons learnt and devise new techniques to support the full recovery of addicted women rather than promote their stigmatisation. Therefore, we need to educate more about drug use disorder, availability treatment and importance oif early intervention and support.

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