Drugs, Youth & the Staggering Indian Society
| Didhiti Ghosh, Bureau Chief, IOP, Kolkata - 26 Nov 2018

Drugs, Youth & the Staggering Indian Society

By Didhiti Ghosh

Kolkata, Nov 26, 2018: Abuse of tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs is costly to India, exacting more than $740 billion annually in costs related to crime, lost work productivity and health care, according to National Institute of Drug Abuse.

Just as a single player’s attitude and actions can hurt his whole team and cause them to lose the match, illicit drugs have the potential to thwart the success of India's future and crumble its investable resources to result in a dramatic backlash.

Making up one-fifth of the population, 15-24 year-olds carry with them India’s legacy and drive the fruit of its political, economic, social and business decisions sanctioned by the authoritative heads at the centre.

In Punjab the number of addicts is ridiculous—nearly 75% of its youth are severely addicted to drugs, which are 3 out of every 4 children. A study by All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) last year had noted that 2.32 lakh addicts in Punjab were addicted to opioids.

Mumbai, Hyderabad and other cities around the country are quickly gaining a reputation for their drug usage, and the population in each of these cities continue to grow.

Delhi is filled with rehab centres trying to keep up with the flow of addicts. Over 500 centres across our country work together to nurse addicts back into healthy productive lifestyles—but addiction is becoming too much for India.

Taking up the aspect of Bengal itself, drug abuse has been increasing at an exponential speed. In her recent interview to the Zonal Director of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB, Kolkata) Dilip Srivastava, Didhiti Ghosh delved into identifying some exhilarating facts related to illegal drug abuse in this region.

Since 2015, the NCB busted racquets involved in the illegal trafficking of 2 lacs 50,000 bottles of codeine-based cough syrups involved in interstate trafficking, according to him. The kind of drug abuse, according to him are natural drugs like hashish and synthetic psychedelic stimulants like methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), more commonly known as ecstasy. Apart from this, hallucinogens like lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and stimulant narcotics like cocaine are frequently found. Added to the above is the problem of prescription pill abuse and codeine-based cough syrups, or those with similar effects.

Economic records show that a lot of money is involved in illegal trafficking, and the amount reaches crores of rupees annually, thereby negatively affecting India’s financial potential.

The susceptibility of young people to developing addictions more rapidly has to do with the fact that the brain is immature and not fully developed until around age 25. Just recently researchers have been able to determine more specifically which areas of an adolescent’s underdeveloped brain are implicated in their vulnerability to addiction.

Scientists have recently pinpointed a specific protein in the brain called elF2 that accounts for adolescents’ hypersensitivity to addictive drugs. Research support involved two studies with mice, along with evidence of generalization from brain imaging in human addicts. 

In the first stage, by injecting both adolescent and adult mice with low doses of cocaine researchers found that cocaine reduced the activity of eIF2α in adolescents but not adults. The effect of the reduced eIF2α activity leads to stronger connections between dopamine-storing neurons in the mesencephalon (midbrain).

In adult mice, researchers went on to alter the production of proteins controlled by eIF2α, making their brains function more like that of adolescents — which in turn made them more susceptible to cocaine-induced changes in the mesencephalon.

The opposite was also true. By increasing eIF2α activity in the brains of adolescent mice to make them more similar to adults, the brain became more resistant to the effects of cocaine.

However, the social perspective of drug addiction is no less important. One major youth drug addiction study declares, “In India, the majority (of addicts) became hooked on drugs after friends introduced drugs to them.” The study goes on to report that an additional 35% of subjects interviewed became addicted after trying out drugs for fun and out of curiosity, and a need to be more independent and in charge of their lives.


The effects of substance dependency:

Some easily recognizable symptoms are a change in the peer group, carelessness with grooming, a decline in academic performance, missing classes or skipping school, loss of interest in favourite activities, trouble in school or with the law, changes in eating or sleeping habits, and deteriorating relationships with family members and friends.


The long-term negative effects of youth drug abuse are:

a.      Behavioural problems. Teens who abuse drugs have an increased risk of social problems, depression, suicidal thoughts and violence. According to a recent survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, teens who abuse drugs are more likely than teens who don’t abuse drugs to engage in delinquent and antisocial behaviours such as fighting and stealing.

b.      Emotional problems. Drug abuse can cause or mask emotional problems such as anxiety, depression, mood swings, suicidal thoughts and schizophrenia. In fact, among teens with major depression, 34.6 percent report using drugs. Unfortunately, drug use can also increase the severity of these emotional problems. For example, teens that use marijuana weekly double their risk of depression and anxiety.

c.       Dependence & relapse. Studies prove that the younger a person is when they begin using drugs the more likely they are to develop a substance abuse problem and relapse later in life.

d.      Car accidents. Teenagers who abuse drugs are more likely to be involved in car accident-related injuries or death. One study showed that 4 to 14 percent of drivers who are injured or die in traffic accidents test positive for THC.

e.      Risky sex. Teens that use drugs are also more likely to have unprotected sex and have sex with a stranger. This leads to higher risks of STDs, teen pregnancy and sexual assault.

f.        Diseases. Teens who abuse drugs with needles increase their risk of blood-borne diseases like HIV, AIDS and Hepatitis B and C.

g.      Brain damage. Brain damage among teens who abuse drugs includes brain shrinkage; impaired learning abilities; amnesia and memory problems; impaired reasoning and latency (reaction time), perception and intuition; increased or decreased socialization; and changes in sexual desire.

h.      Learning problems. Drug abuse damages short-term and long-term memory and can lead to problems with learning and memory later in life.


Prevention and Protection against further abuse:

Creating healthy and attractive alternatives to drug abuse can curb the number of first-time users. The United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention has come out with a handbook to help communities prevent drug abuse. Some basic prevention ideas include:

a.      Promotion of positive mental health. The community must promote healthy lifestyles through personal and cultural practices.

b.      Focus on people and the encouragement of social interaction. Create this environment through organized activities that all ages, young and old, can partake in.  

c.       Local involvement of young people and respect for cultural values. The activities we chose should focus on young people. We must respect the cultural traditions of the community.

d.      Encouragement of positive alternatives. Develop these alternatives with cultural values in mind, and understanding what appeals to the younger generation.

e.      Achieving a long-term perspective. Don't be discouraged if results aren't immediate. Preventing drug use takes time - keeping a long-term perspective is important.

f.        Community development. Focus on developing the fundamentals of the community. Education, health and social services, housing, sanitation, and income-generating activities are important ideas to focus in on.


Initiatives taken by the Government of India:

Under the Government of India, The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare & the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment are involved in implementing drug abuse and alcohol dependence reduction policies and providing drug de-addiction programmes in the country. A 24 x 7 National Toll-Free Drug De-addiction Helpline Number (1800 - 11 – 0031) has been set up to help the victims of substance dependency.

During the year 2017 - 18, National Institute of Social Defence (NISD) has conducted 127 capacity building programme imparting training to 4488 persons. They have also conducted 247 awareness generation programmes in various schools, colleges and universities covering 23006 beneficiaries.

The Ministry has also issued an advisory to all the States & Union Territories on combating drug abuse, which advises them to prepare an Action Plan, which, inter-alia, includes conducting sensitization and preventive education programmes in schools and colleges throughout the year.

Apart from this, the Ministry implements a Central Sector Scheme of Assistance for Prevention of Alcoholism and Substance (Drug) Abuse under which financial assistance is provided to eligible Non-Governmental Organizations, Panchayat Raj Institutions & Urban Local Bodies to support the running and maintenance of Integrated Rehabilitation Centres for Addicts.

Photo - Dr. Kushal Jain, a psychiatrist at Delhi's VIMHANS Institute, New Delhi. 

(DIDHITI GHOSH is the Senior Correspondent of INDIAN OBSERVER POST based in Kolkata. She is a psychologist, journalist, script-writer, professor and a certified translator-interpreter of the Spanish language. She is an ardent advocate of engendering positive mental health in the society, and among the present generation youth at large. She has been involved in organizing youth mental health & anti-drug abuse campaigns in and around Kolkata in collaboration with educational institutions in Bengal and The National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bangalore. (Contact: didhiti.24@gmail.com)

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