Enhancement motivations for using prescription drugs among young adults in Nigeria

Emeka Dumbili, John Gardner, Hannah Degge, Reiner Hanewinkel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Background: The desire for enhancement is a common motive for non-medical use of prescription drugs in Western countries. Little is known about the factors that motivate use in non-Western contexts. Methods: The study explores access to prescription drugs and the motivations for using them among educated young adults in a city located in Anambra State, South-Eastern Nigeria. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 23 participants aged 23–29 years. Data were thematically analysed using NVivo 12 Software. Results: The data indicate that prescription drugs are widely available and easy to access without a prescription in the unregistered ‘pharmacies’ and medicine shops that form part of Nigeria's informal healthcare system. Social networks are also a source of drugs. Participants shared detailed perspectives on their use of prescription drugs, revealing that codeine, Rohypnol, and high doses of tramadol are used to enhance performance in several social life domains. These drugs were described as enhancing performance and productivity in the workplace, and were taken by participants working as labourers and sales representatives. Male participants also shared accounts of using high doses of tramadol to improve stamina and skill in sports. Some participants took Rohypnol to enhance their creative and academic performance. Participants stated that drug use enabled them to meet the pressures associated with work, academia, and parental expectations. Conclusion: The findings suggest that prescription drugs are being strategically and instrumentally deployed by users to enhance different domains of social life. This is driven by users’ experiences of the drugs’ bodily effects, and it is supported by a context in which self-medication and informal healthcare are common. Participants’ reasons for seeking drug-induced enhancement reflect sociocultural factors within Nigeria and some West African countries, such as employment scarcity and the championing of sporting prowess. The findings can be used to inform the design of tailored approaches to reduce the harms presented by the non-medical use of pharmaceuticals among young adults.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102995
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2020


  • Enhancement motives
  • Human enhancement drugs
  • Performance-enhancing drugs tramadol
  • Prescription drug use
  • Young adults

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