Real Life, Real Talk: discussing substance use with the youth of Jamaica

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Hey guys, Rasheem here! I’m 22 and I live in Kingston Jamaica. I know how easy it can be for teens to access and abuse alcohol and tobacco, as it was for me. So I decided to head to the streets of Jamaica and talk to other young people about the pressures and influences they see around them today. As I walked by my old high school, I remembered how the bars around my school were open as early as 8 AM. For those of us that looked old enough, that could even be our breakfast.

First, I met up with Kimarly and he pointed out the spots where young people hang out on Friday nights to grab a smoke or some rum. His friends kept saying, “oh just try one drink man!” One drink turned into two and then three. Before he even had a chance to realize what was happening, things got out of control. 

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Rasheem Martin

I then bumped into Deandra and we got to talking. She started telling me about her past with marijuana. After a traumatic experience, she didn’t have anyone to turn to. That’s when she got mixed up with alcohol and marijuana. People told her that it could help comfort and calm her so she used to sneak out of the house and ask her older friends, who had the hook up, to get her drinks and joints. After a while though, she realized that this was just a temporary fix and she needed help. 

I then went to see Jerome, lovingly known as “Uncle Jerome,” who runs Teen Hub and supports young people in the Kingston area. The young people at Teen Hub told me about how using alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana was the main way they knew how to cope with difficult emotions. Pressure that comes from parents about school was a real thing for them - and marijuana was often a way for them to take the edge off before an exam.

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Having such easy access to these substances didn’t help either. The teens said they could go to the corner shop or supermarket and get some rum - no questions asked. At parties, everyone was drinking and smoking. They didn’t want to feel them left out, so they tried it too. They also talked about how seeing social media influencers and celebrities in music videos made smoking and drinking part of a rich, cool, and glamorous lifestyle. Society makes us think that drinking and smoking can make our life better, but does it really? As young people, we have the power to be aware and make better choices for ourselves.

Check out this learning module to know more about how drinking and smoking affects us. Together, we can stay informed and take action to make our communities safer and healthier.

This is Rasheem signing off!


Rasheem is a Zonal Coordinator for U-Report Jamaica and one of the UNICEF-AstraZeneca 2020-2021 Young Leaders. Learn more about his vision for a healthier future here. And visit this page to know the facts about alcohol and tobacco, discover how other young people are dealing with their relationship with substances and join the conversation.

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