• Charles Leslie Jr | Public Relations | BPP

Murder: #2 Cause of Death for (young) Belizeans. A Novel Solution?

By: Charles Leslie Jr | Public Relations Director of the BPP

If you pay close attention, you will notice that the vast majority of murders that happen in Belize are among our youths, and some form of drug is always a major contributing factor.

Mainly alcohol.

Alcohol consumption continues to increase in Belize, as well as other substance abuse, among our youths.

Studies after studies show that increased psycho-social stress causes people, especially young people, to seek forms of escapism.

Drugs and alcohol have, and continues, to be the preferred methods to escape the realities of a world that seems to be getting harsher by the day.

Crime, especially murder, have reached all time highs in the past 8 years in Belize.

Why is it that nothing seems to be working in Belize?

Are we applying the best known methods that are already showing significant success in countries in different parts of the world?

"The Icelandic Method seems to be working quite well in reducing drugs and alcohol consumption among youths."

Because of the method Iceland is applying, today their country tops the European table for the cleanest-living teens.

The percentage of 15 and 16-year-olds who had been drunk in the previous month plummeted from 42 percent in 1998 to 5 percent in 2016.

The percentage who have ever used cannabis is down from 17 percent to 7 percent.

Those smoking cigarettes every day, fell from 23 percent to just 3 percent.

"How did Iceland do it?"

The way they have achieved this turnaround has been both radical and evidence-based, but it has relied a lot on what might be termed enforced common sense.

If Belize was to adopt the Icelandic model, it could benefit the general psychological and physical wellbeing of thousands of youths, not to mention the government's coffers and especially the broader society.

A lot of our youths are using more and more alcohol and drugs such as marijuana - I am not against marijuana, however, it is still a drug and abusing any substance can and will cause harm to your body and mind.

"Why are so many of our young Belizeans involved in so much substance abuse?"

There are a lot of interest in why people take certain drugs.

Example: People would choose either heroin or amphetamines depending on how they like to deal with stress.

  • Heroin users want to numb themselves from stress;

  • Amphetamine users want to actively confront stress.

Experts all over the world have been asking important questions such as: why do people start using drugs? Why do they continue? When do they reach a threshold to abuse? When do they stop? And when do they relapse?

Why do they start? There’s availability; young people are risk-takers, they feel alienated, and some suffer with varying degrees of depression.

Why do they continue? Apparently young people are on the threshold for abuse before they even take a drug for the first time, and taking the drug subsequently stems from them coping with the stresses of life.

"Young people are getting addicted to changes in their brain chemistry. "

Most of the kids who are on the streets day in and day out, and who often get into conflict, are considered "active confronters". They are after a rush. They get it by being involved in different risk-taking and confrontational situations and activities, through stimulant drugs or a combination.

The main stimulant in Belize, which is due to its easy access and affordable cost, is alcohol.

Alcohol is a substance that alters your brain chemistry. It is a sedative, however, it sedates the brain's control first, which normally removes inhibitions, and in limited doses, reduce anxiety.

It is important to note that people can become addicted to anything:

  • alcohol

  • cars

  • money

  • food

  • cocaine

  • weed

  • anything

This is considered behavioral addiction.

So, psychologists came up with an interesting idea: Why not develop a social movement around natural highs: where people can get high on their own brain chemistry - for, it seemed obvious to them that people want to change their consciousness, however, they want to avoid the destructive effects of drugs?

Project Self-Discovery

In 1992 a team of psychologists developed a program called Project Self-Discovery. This program offered young people natural-highs as an alternative to drugs and crime.

They identified young people via consultation with teachers, school nurses and counselors.

They took kids from the age of 14. These kids didn't see themselves as needing treatment, however they had problems with drugs or petty crime.

These kids weren't told they were being treated. They were told that they would be taught anything they wanted to learn: music, dance, hip hop, art, martial arts.

The idea was that these different classes could provide different types of alterations in the kid's brain chemistry, and give them what they needed to cope better with life.

Some kids may want an experience that could help them reduce anxiety, others may crave a rush.

These kids also got important life-skills training, focusing on improving their thoughts about themselves and their lives, and the way they interact with other people.

"Drug Education Doesn't Work."

Most kids do not pay attention to drug education. Young people need life-skills so that they can act on the information from drug education.

Kids appreciated the benefits of Project Self-Discovery so much, that some stayed for five years, when they were initially told it would only last three months.

It has been identified that kids may very well need healthy alternatives to drugs and alcohol; not to be treated, but to stop them from drinking or taking drugs in the first place.