A nation of addicts

A government-commissioned survey of substance abuse in the country shows worrying levels of addiction. Alcohol is the most widely used psychoactive substance in India, according to the ‘National Survey on Extent and Pattern of Substance Use in India’, released recently by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. Around 14.6% of all Indians in the 10-75 age group consume alcohol and over 5% are in need of medical help to address alcohol-dependence. Of those who are alcohol-dependent, just 2.6% received treatment and 0.5% were hospitalised for treatment. Uttar Pradesh has the highest number of people (1.6 crore) suffering from alcohol-dependence or consuming it in a harmful way, followed by Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu with 47 lakh and 37 lakh people who are problem drinkers. With 20 lakh alcohol-dependent people, Karnataka figures 10th in the country. The highest prevalence of alcohol-dependence is in Tripura with 13.7% of the population, followed by Arunachal Pradesh (7.2%) and Chhattisgarh, Punjab and Andhra (around 6%). The use of heroin is high, while the use of opioids in the country is three times the global average — 2.06% in India compared to 0.70% globally. The study found that 0.7% of Indians used inhalants, with around 4.6 lakh children and 18 lakh adults needing help for its problematic use.

Not only has substance abuse assumed serious proportions in the country, but there is also a huge gap between those who need medical treatment and its availability. For one, Indians tend to look upon alcohol and drug addiction as moral issues. Consequently, addicts are unwilling to seek treatment. We need to wake up to the fact that depression, anxiety, mood disorders and mental illnesses underlie addiction and thus these are problems that need to be medically treated. For addicts, the problem doesn’t simply go away, and they may need hospitalisation. While alcohol consumption is 17 times more prevalent among men than among women, the latter is harder to tackle. Social stigma attached to women drinking or doing drugs pushes the problem deeper underground among women than among men and is thus more difficult to detect and treat. Peer pressure plays a huge role in children taking to alcohol and narcotics. Many teenagers see alcohol and drugs as ‘cool’ stuff to engage in. Others see their use as symbols of modernity and liberation. So long as liquor and drugs are seen as trendy, it will be difficult to curb its use among youth. 

India has hundreds of illegal rehabilitation centres where alcoholics are beaten up and drug-users chained. Theirs is a brutal and unscientific approach that often worsens the problem. These need to be shut down. What we need are more psychiatrists, trained counsellors and rehabilitation clinics.

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A nation of addicts


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