Examining the Problems and Bettering the Future of Trinidad and Tobago's Youth
There are approximately 450,556 young people in Trinidad and Tobago between the ages of 12 and 29 (msya.gov.tt). Trinidad and Tobago's youth represent about 34.2 percent of the national population (msya.gov.tt), and soon they will mature into an impactful number of young adults operating within Trinidad and Tobago's society.
According to the Ministry of Youth Development and National Services, one challenge that may be holding Trinidad and Tobago's young people back from meeting their full potential, now and in the future, is alcohol and drug use.
Youth Alcohol and Drug Use
The leading risk factor for young people ages 15-19 is drug and alcohol use (paho.org). Heavy episodic drinking (HED) or binge drinking is on the rise among adolescents in Trinidad and Tobago (paho.org). Other drugs Trinidad and Tobago's adolescents engage with at varying levels are over-the-counter cough and cold medicine, lean, cigarettes, and marijuana (researchgate.net, Johnson and Mendoza).
Although legal restrictions on alcohol sales to minors exist, they are poorly enforced (bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com). According to a 2017 national survey of alcohol in households, 84 percent of adolescents in Trinidad and Tobago report having used alcohol previously, 25 percent of 13–15-year-olds report having become drunk at some point in their lives, and 31 percent of university students report binge drinking (bmcpublichealth.biomedcentral.com).
In referencing the "Adolescent and Youth Health 2017 Country Profile," of the youth in Trinidad and Tobago who have tried alcohol, 82.5 percent of those had their first drink before turning 14, and 53.7 percent of secondary high school students binge drink (paho.org). Eighty point three percent of students who have experimented with drugs first tried drugs before age 14 (paho.org).
What is concerning about drug and alcohol use by youth is that "there is a growing body of evidence from neuroscience indicating that the use of psychoactive substances during adolescence, particularly heavy use, may have implications across the life course due to the effect on brain development. Psychoactive substances may generate neural adaptations that increase the risk for substance use disorders in adulthood" (paho.org).
Research also demonstrates that "adolescent alcohol and marijuana users have shown changes in brain structure and functions, including lower brain volume in several regions of the brain, and reduced white matter integrity, which are associated with optimal cognitive, behavioral, and emotional development" (paho.org).
Due to the ill effects on young people's cognitive functioning and overall health, it is imperative to take necessary measures to curb alcohol and drug use in the youth population so that a future of thriving, fully functioning adults may arise.
Societal Alcohol and Drug Use
A 2019 study published in the Journal of Substance Use determines that there is a high prevalence of alcohol use in Trinidad and Tobago's society in general and easy access to substances (researchgate.net, Johnson and Mendoza).
According to the 2019 study: "It would seem that easy access to substances plays a role in young people obtaining drugs and alcohol, including minors. Culturally, alcohol usage is embraced as part of celebrations, as it is prevalent at social, sporting, cultural, and national events where young people are present" (researchgate.net, Johnson and Mendoza).
Connecting Trinidad and Tobago's youth with appropriate mentors outside of the home environment who can engage them in healthy activities, supervise their actions, and educate them on the dangers of alcohol and drug use (especially at a young age) is an essential step in fighting youth alcohol and drug use.
Call to Action
Guiding Trinidad and Tobago's youth away from alcohol and drug use may be challenging, but with the right influence and mentorship, possible. If you would like to be a positive role model for Trinidad and Tobago's youth, Kayifi Outreach wants to hear from you! Just send in a video or other media that shares your story about who you are and your advice to young people. We will connect your message with those who need to hear it the most.
Emmanuel Janagan Johnson & Samantha Mendoza (2019): "An Exploratory
Study on the Prevention of Drug Abuse Among the Adolescent Students," Journal of Substance Use. 2019.
researchgate.net, Johnson and Mendoza