The Pill Pop Culture in Lebanon

According to a recent report by the Institute for Development, Research, Advocacy and Applied Care (IDRAAC), 28.5 percent of Lebanese people have at least one mental disorder, mostly anxiety related (with a majority of post-traumatic stress disorder – PTSD and generalized anxiety). Such conditions often have even more formidable symptoms, such as chronic depression and bipolar disorder. Six to 17 percent of adults are at risk of depression in their lives, which affects women more than men by a ratio of 3:2. Signs of depression are seeing one’s self as pathetic, viewing the world as if nobody cares and perceiving the future as hopeless. University students can be particularly vulnerable to such illnesses due to lack of sleep and unhealthy lifestyles. According to estimates by the World Health Organization, up to 70 percent of Lebanese who suffer from depression are not getting proper treatment. The WHO believes there is an overall treatment gap of 90 percent for mental disorders in the Arab world.

“Most unsettling, however, is the increase in prescription drug use. Anti-anxiety medications, unlike more serious drugs, are not covered by the Ministry of Health, due to the high prevalence of such disorder, and also because they are cheap and easily available. Pill Pop Culture in LebanonIn 2011, Lebanon had consumed a frightening amount of 1,000,000 tranquilizers and 642,000 anti-depressants. That’s a whole lot of anti-anxiety pills for a population of 4 million”.

An alarming number of women living in Lebanon pop pain pills for a boost of energy, a dose of calm or other non-medical reasons. Many of them use prescribed drugs (narcotics, anti-anxiety drugs…) so they do not feel they are abusing. It is a kind of trend which is not only a Western trend, taking the street drug’s place – meth, cocaine, and heroin. According to drug abuse experts, women seem more vulnerable than men to addiction to these types of drugs once they start taking them.

Whom to blame? Pharmaceutical industries? Lebanese Pharmacies? The Lebanese State? Men? Women?

What about Urbanization? Globalization? Political turmoil? Financial problems? The desire for a quick-fix for problems, rather than opting for long-term counseling? Lack of self-confidence?

“A good percentage of the depression in Lebanon is psycho-social, connected to current events in a person’s life, rather than a biological chemical imbalance, and this is best treated with therapy. But people think, ‘Why should I pay someone to talk?’”

‘Life with pills’ has become a ‘culture’. What has become conceivable is to dip into friends’ supplies – ‘do you have a XANAX pill? I forgot mine at home’. What has become inconceivable is to have a balanced life without even thinking about abusing drugs.

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