A Qualitative Analysis of Substance Use among Liberian Youth: Understanding Behaviors, Consequences, and Protective Factors Involving School Youth and the School Milieu
Objective: Substance use is a significant and common problem among school-aged youths throughout Africa. Like other countries on this continent, the West-African nation of Liberia is recovering from civil war. A well-educated population of young people is critical to the recovery efforts and long-term success of Liberia. Substance use by school-aged youths has important public health consequences that could undermine Liberia’s post-conflict recovery efforts. We wanted to better understand the culturally significant themes and subthemes related to substance use among youths attending public schools in Monrovia, Liberia.
Methods: A qualitative research design was used to collect data from 72 students attending public school in Monrovia, Liberia. Nine focus groups of 6-8 students from three public schools were facilitated using a semi-structured format to guide discussions on substance use. Student narratives were translated and re-occurring themes and subthemes were coded and analyzed.
Results: Four emergent themes described in this study were:
- Behaviors associated with substance use
- Consequences associated with individual use
- Consequences of substance use that affected the school milieu
- School-related factors that were protective from substance use.
Subthemes associated with substance use included concealment of substances, intoxication and disruption of the classroom environment, expulsion from school, school drop-out, and school as protective against substance use.
Conclusion: Liberian school-aged youths described important themes and subthemes associated with substance use occurring within the school milieu. These data have germane public health ramifications, and could help inform larger epidemiologic study methods and public health interventions for Liberia and countries with similar profiles.