No way out: Zim youth under siege

Many young people are struggling with mental health issues leading them to rely on substance abuse as a coping mechanism.

NOT a month goes by without hearing of a family that has lost a child to an overdose or taken their child to a drug rehabilitation unit (DRU). DRUs in Zimbabwe are not accessible places for ordinary folk in Zimbabwe because they are pricey.

In addition, many of the youth whose parents could afford to have them quarantined there for a period or several, have relapsed. Substance abuse in Zimbabwe is reaching alarming levels and yet it would appear on the surface that Zimbabweans are not outraged enough to demand lasting interventions to mitigate this scourge.

Substance abuse and mental health are closely intertwined issues, particularly among youth in Zimbabwe. The relationship between substance abuse, mental health, and economic costs to families can have profound implications for the affected youth.

In Zimbabwe, substance abuse often co-occurs with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and trauma. Many young people turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to self-medicate and cope with underlying mental health challenges.

However, substance abuse can exacerbate these mental health issues over time, leading to a vicious cycle of dependency and poor mental well-being.

The lack of access to mental health services and stigma surrounding mental health in Zimbabwe further complicates the situation.

Many young people struggling with mental health issues may not seek help or receive adequate support, leading them to rely on substance abuse as a coping mechanism.

The economic costs of substance abuse and mental health challenges on families in Zimbabwe can be significant. Families may bear the financial burden of supporting a loved one struggling with addiction or mental health issues, including costs related to treatment, therapy, and rehabilitation. These expenses can place a strain on family finances, especially in a country where economic hardships are already prevalent.

Furthermore, the implications for the affected youth can be severe. Substance abuse and mental health issues can impact a young person's ability to attend school, hold down a job, or maintain healthy relationships. This can lead to a cycle of poverty, unemployment, and social isolation, further perpetuating the challenges faced by the youth in Zimbabwe.

In addition to the direct economic costs, there are also broader societal implications of substance abuse and mental health issues among youth in Zimbabwe. These include increased healthcare costs, reduced productivity, and a strain on social services and support systems. Addressing these issues requires a multi-sectoral approach that integrates mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and economic empowerment programmes for youth.

To quantify the economic costs of substance abuse and mental health challenges on families in Zimbabwe, it is important to consider factors such as healthcare expenses, lost productivity, and social welfare costs. Additionally, the long-term implications of substance abuse and mental health issues on educational attainment, employment opportunities, and overall well-being of the youth should be taken into account.

Root causes

The root causes of substance abuse and mental unfitness among youth in Zimbabwe are multifaceted and interconnected, often stemming from a combination of social, economic, and environmental factors. Here is an analysis outlining some of the key root causes:

Economic hardships

One of the primary root causes of substance abuse and mental unfitness among youth in Zimbabwe is economic hardships. High levels of unemployment, poverty, and limited access to basic amenities create a sense of hopelessness and despair among young people. Economic instability can lead to feelings of stress, anxiety, and low self-esteem, driving some youth to turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with their circumstances.

Adverse childhood experiences

Many youth in Zimbabwe have experienced trauma and adverse childhood experiences such as abuse, neglect, or violence. Many have grown up as orphaned and vulnerable children (OVCs) due to the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the past.

These experiences can have long-lasting effects on mental health and well-being, increasing the risk of substance abuse as a maladaptive coping mechanism. Without proper support and interventions, young people may struggle to address and overcome these traumatic experiences.

Lack of access to  health services

Zimbabwe, like many other countries, faces challenges in providing basic adequate health services, never mind mental health services and support to its population.

Stigma surrounding mental health issues, limited resources, and a shortage of trained professionals can prevent young people from seeking help for mental health institutions.

This lack of access to timely and appropriate care can contribute to worsening mental health outcomes and increase the likelihood of substance abuse or escalation of it.

Peer pressure, social influences

Peer pressure and social influences play a significant role in the initiation and continuation of substance abuse among youth in Zimbabwe. Young people may be influenced by their peers to experiment with drugs and alcohol as a way to fit in, alleviate boredom, or escape from reality.

The desire to belong and seek acceptance among peers can lead to risky behaviors and substance misuse.

Lack of education, awareness

A lack of education and awareness about the risks and consequences of substance abuse and mental health issues can contribute to their prevalence among youth in Zimbabwe. Without access to accurate information and resources, young people may not fully understand the impact of their choices on their well-being.

Comprehensive education and awareness programmes are essential in empowering youth to make informed decisions and seek help when needed.

Possible mitigation measures

To mitigate against substance abuse leading to mental unfitness and even death among the youth in Zimbabwe, several innovative measures can be put in place.

The pre-requisite however is, key stakeholders like government, educators, parents, the youth and the donor community ought to have a stakeholder summit where the scourge of substance abuse is unpacked and acknowledged as a threat to the future catchment of people resources in Zimbabwe.

That acknowledgement is necessary so that the issue is made top-of-mind by government and resources are mobilised to fund the mitigation of the menace. Here are some specific strategies that can be implemented:

Awareness programmes

Develop and implement comprehensive education and awareness programmes in schools, communities, and through social media platforms to educate youth about the risks and consequences of substance abuse.

These programmes should focus on promoting positive coping mechanisms, building resilience, and providing information on mental health resources and support services.

Mentorship programmes

Establish peer support and mentorship programmes that connect young people with positive role models who can provide guidance, support, and encouragement.

Peer support networks can help individuals navigate challenges, build healthy relationships, and resist negative influences that may lead to substance abuse. This measure is key because increasingly, role-models that have been emerging in the country, across the board, are people who leave a lot to be desired.

Mental health services

Improve access to youth-friendly mental health services by expanding mental health facilities, training healthcare professionals in youth-specific mental health care, and increasing awareness about available resources.

Mobile mental health clinics and telehealth services can also help reach young people in remote areas.

Community-based  programmes

Implement community-based prevention and intervention programmes that engage youth, families, schools, and local organisations in addressing substance abuse and mental health issues. These programmes can include peer-led support groups, community outreach initiatives, and recreational activities that promote healthy lifestyles.

Technology-based solutions

Utilise technology-based solutions such as mobile apps, online counseling services, and virtual support groups to reach young people, who may be hesitant to seek help in traditional settings. Technology can provide a convenient and confidential platform for youth to access information, resources, and support for substance abuse and mental health concerns.

Integration of mental health

Integrate mental health services into primary healthcare settings to ensure that young people have access to holistic care that addresses both physical and mental well-being. This approach can help identify mental health issues early, provide timely interventions, and prevent the escalation of substance abuse problems.

Skill development programmes

Create employment and skill development programmes that provide young people with opportunities for training, job placement, and economic empowerment. By addressing the root causes of economic hardships and providing pathways to sustainable livelihoods, these programmes can reduce the likelihood of youth turning to substance abuse as a coping mechanism.

Policy advocacy, capacity building

Advocate for policies that support mental health promotion, substance abuse prevention, and youth empowerment. Build the capacity of government agencies, non-profit organizations, and community stakeholders to implement evidence-based interventions and support systems that address the complex needs of youth in Zimbabwe.

Extreme circumstances are only resolved by equally extreme actions. If the scourge of substance amongst the youth of Zimbabwe is not arrested, the outcomes for Zimbabwe in the future are going to be dim and compromised. Zimbabwe’s youth is it future and measures must be put into place to mitigate against this menace getting worse.


In conclusion, the relationship between substance abuse, mental health, and economic costs to families in Zimbabwe has far-reaching implications for the affected youth. By addressing the root causes of these issues, increasing access to mental health services, and providing support for those struggling with substance abuse, it is possible to mitigate the economic and societal impacts of these challenges and create a healthier future for the youth population.

The root causes of substance abuse and mental unfitness among youth in Zimbabwe are complex and interconnected.

Addressing these issues requires a holistic approach that encompasses economic empowerment, trauma-informed care, improved access to mental health services, targeted education and awareness initiatives, and the promotion of positive peer influences.

By addressing these root causes, it is possible to create a supportive environment where youth can thrive mentally, emotionally, and physically.

By implementing innovative mitigation measures and adopting a holistic approach to addressing substance abuse and mental health issues among youth in Zimbabwe, it is possible to create a supportive environment that promotes well-being, resilience, and positive outcomes for young people.

Collaboration among government agencies, civil society organizations, healthcare providers, educators, communities and even roping in funding from the donor community, is essential in effectively mitigating the impact of substance abuse on youth mental health and overall well-being.

  • Ndoro-Mkombachoto is a former academic and banker. She has consulted widely in strategy, entrepreneurship and private sector development for organisations that include Seed Co Africa, Hwange Colliery, RBZ/CGC, Standard Bank of South Africa, Home Loans, IFC/World Bank, UNDP, USAid, Danida, Cida, Kellogg Foundation, among others, as a writer, property investor, developer and manager. — @HeartfeltwithGloria/ +263 772 236 341.

Related Topics