Addressing Substance Abuse Through Nigerian Religious Leaders (His Grace Ambassador Salika Dasa Adhikari and Prince Charles Dickson PhD)







Substance abuse remains a significant public health concern with far-reaching consequences for individuals, families, and communities worldwide. In Nigeria, this issue is particularly pressing, affecting people of all ages, backgrounds, and social strata. To combat this problem effectively, a holistic and community-based approach is required. Religious leaders, as influential figures within Nigerian communities, can play a pivotal role in addressing substance abuse through their guidance, teachings, and support systems.


The Influence of Religious Beliefs on Substance Abuse Behavior

The world can be divided into two categories: the knowledgeable and the ignorant. This distinction shapes human interactions and perspectives. Ignorance can only be dispelled through awareness, enabling clear thinking. Religious texts and teachings emphasize the importance of understanding. Religious conviction is a strong human emotion, that motivates actions and sacrifices. Religious institutions play a pivotal role in raising awareness, as emphasized by the UN's SDG 16, which highlights the significance of religious institutions in promoting education and inclusivity.


Religious institutions possess the potential to raise awareness about substance abuse due to their strategic role in society. They not only enhance understanding of substance abuse risks but also guide individuals away from detrimental behaviors. Religious organizations employ awareness campaigns to combat substance abuse, influencing attitudes and behaviors. Addressing the stigma surrounding substance abuse requires educational programs to challenge misconceptions and promote accurate information. Partnerships between religious leaders and stakeholders are vital to address substance abuse. Collaborative efforts, including awareness campaigns, can effectively combat substance misuse, especially when involving community stakeholders, religious leaders, and government agencies


The Influence of Religious Leaders

Religion holds a prominent place in Nigerian society, shaping cultural norms, values, and behaviors. Religious leaders, including pastors, imams, and traditional spiritual leaders, are highly respected and often serve as role models for their communities. Their influence extends beyond spiritual matters to encompass various aspects of daily life, including health and well-being. By leveraging their credibility and moral authority, religious leaders can initiate conversations about substance abuse, raise awareness, and provide guidance on prevention and treatment. Their teachings can emphasize the importance of leading a healthy and responsible life, steering individuals away from the destructive path of substance abuse.


Creating Awareness

One of the most effective ways that religious leaders can contribute to addressing substance abuse is by creating awareness within their congregations. Regular sermons, teachings, and community gatherings can be used as platforms to discuss the dangers of substance abuse, its impact on individuals and families, and the importance of seeking help. Religious institutions can also collaborate with healthcare professionals and experts to provide accurate information about substance abuse and addiction.


Offering Support Systems

Religious communities provide a strong support network that can be instrumental in helping individuals overcome substance abuse challenges. Religious leaders can facilitate support groups, counseling sessions, and mentoring programs aimed at providing emotional, spiritual, and psychological assistance to those struggling with addiction. These initiatives offer a safe space for individuals to share their experiences, receive encouragement, and find a sense of belonging.


Combating Stigma

Stigma often prevents individuals from seeking help for substance abuse. Religious leaders have the power to dispel misconceptions and negative attitudes surrounding addiction. Through their teachings, they can promote empathy, understanding, and acceptance of individuals facing substance abuse issues. This shift in perception can encourage affected individuals to seek assistance without fear of judgment.


Building Partnerships

To enhance the impact of their efforts, religious leaders can forge partnerships with various stakeholders, including government agencies, non-profit organizations, and healthcare providers. Collaborative initiatives can involve organizing awareness campaigns, educational workshops, and community events that address substance abuse. By uniting resources and expertise, these partnerships can amplify the reach of anti-substance abuse messages and interventions.



Addressing substance abuse in Nigeria requires a comprehensive and community-driven approach that leverages the influence of religious leaders. Their role in shaping values, guiding behaviors, and providing support makes them uniquely positioned to contribute to the fight against substance abuse. By creating awareness, offering support, combating stigma, and building partnerships, religious leaders can play a pivotal role in transforming Nigerian communities into resilient and substance-free environments. Through this collective effort, a brighter and healthier future can be secured for all Nigerians.


Recommended Reading 

  1. "Religion and Substance Use" by Elizabeth K. Rasberry and Kenneth S. Kendler

    • This article explores the complex relationship between religious beliefs, practices, and substance use. It discusses how religious institutions can play a role in preventing substance abuse and supporting recovery.

  1. “Religion and Spirituality in Substance Abuse Recovery: Determining the Fit" by John F. Kelly and Valerie Slaymaker

    • This study delves into how religion and spirituality can influence substance abuse recovery. It highlights the potential benefits of integrating religious and spiritual elements into treatment programs.

  1. ”Substance Abuse, Religion and Spirituality" by John F. Kelly and Marsha Bates

    • This book chapter provides a comprehensive overview of the intersection between substance abuse, religion, and spirituality. It discusses the role of religious leaders in addressing substance abuse and promoting recovery.

  1. “Faith and Substance Use Disorder Recovery: The Role of Congregations in Sustaining Recovery" by Matt Grawitch and Amanda Hunsaker

    • This research article explores how congregations and religious leaders can support individuals in substance use disorder recovery. It discusses the importance of creating a supportive community.

  1. “Community-Based Approaches to Preventing Substance Abuse and Promoting Recovery" by Robert L. DuPont and Erin E. Mee-Lee

    • This chapter discusses the importance of community-based approaches in preventing substance abuse. It emphasizes the role of local leaders, including religious leaders, in building supportive environments.


  1. Committee on the Science of Changing Behavioral Health Social Norms, Board on Behavioral, Cognitive, and Sensory Sciences, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, & National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2016, August 3). 

  1. Approaches to Reducing Stigma. Nih.gov; National Academies Press (US). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK384914/#Gateway, B. (n.d.). 

  1. Opportunities for Faith Based Organizations in Substance Use Prevention: A Christian Perspectives. ARJESS. https://arjess.org/opportunities-for-faith-based-organizations-in-substance-use-prevention-a-christian-perspectives/Mojtabai R. (2007). 

  1. My Islam. (n.d.). Surah Al-Baqarah Ayat 269 (2:269 Quran) With Tafsir. My Islam. Retrieved August 13, 2023, from https://myislam.org/surah-baqarah/ayat-269/Swami Prabhupada, A. C. B. (1972). 

  1. Bhagava-gita As It Is (1st ed., p. 166). Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. (Original work published 2023)Swami, B. T. (Bhakti T., & Internet Archive. (1996). 

  1. Leadership for an age of higher consciousness. In Internet Archive. [Largo, Md.] : Hari-Nama Press. https://archive.org/details/leadershipforage0000swam


These readings offer a diverse range of perspectives on the intersection of religion, community, and substance abuse. They can provide a solid foundation for understanding the potential of a community approach involving Nigerian religious leaders to address substance abuse challenges.



*His Grace Ambassador Salika Dasa Adhikari holds prominent roles within ISKCON-JOS and is a key figure in Nigeria's International Society for Krishna Consciousness movement. He serves as Tempe President of ISKCON-JOS and is also Vice-Chairman of the National Council for the Movement in Nigeria. Furthermore, he holds the position of Deputy Minister of Education at Bhaktivedanta Academy for Culture and Education, West Africa (BACE) and can be reached salika108@gmail.com or cassefnigeria@gmail.com 


*Prince Charles Dickson is an alumnus of the University of Jos and the prestigious Humanitarian Academy at Harvard and the University of Texas at Austin. He holds a doctorate in Psychology (Policy & Human Development) from the Jesuit-run Georgetown University Washington DC. He leads the Jos-based The Tattaaunawa Roundtable Initiative (TRICentre) and can be reached at pcdbooks@tataaunawa.org