Today, April 12, is World Psychology Day. Most of us use the term psychology in our day-to-day lives but ironically, there is still some stigma attached to approaching a psychologist. On this day, I would like to delve into the effects of addiction and society’s response to the crisis.When it comes to addiction, there are a few myths to be busted. For example some feel that they won’t get addicted to intoxicating substances and can deal with them better. Many also assume that a few joints of cannabis or a few glasses of alcohol will not have a significant impact on the individual.
And today, people who are educated believe that the internet provides them with sufficient information about the effects of a drug. They are just aware of a few side effects, claim that it is used in medication and unfortunately, miss out on the larger impact it has on their brains.Most of us think that addiction is something which we solely pick up from peers or learn from somewhere. It’s not so. There are behavioural, social and genetic factors too. If a parent is alcoholic, the child might be prone to such addiction. Even though the child would not want to pick up such unwanted behaviour from a parent, it may happen unconsciously.
A person’s personality also plays a significant role. Individuals who seek thrilling experiences, people who are impulsive in nature are more likely to get addicted to something. At the same time, introverts also face a similar problem. For them, it becomes even more difficult to give up addiction because it might be a coping strategy. Studies say that children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder are more prone to any kind of addiction as they can be restless and keep shifting from one source of pleasure to another.
Today the levels and areas of addiction have evolved: mobiles, internet, gadgets, gambling, smoking, alcohol, drugs, etc. According to anecdotal evidence, there has been an exponential rise in cannabis addiction cases over the last five years all over the country, especially in South India. It is true that we cannot come to conclusions based on just anecdotes. And this is where we hit a stumbling block. No eminent body has undertaken a study of such cases recently in the South. This is very unfortunate because we still do not know the extent of the problem.
Now this brings us to the question: Why do people, including children, get addicted to certain substances? Some use drugs to deal with societal pressure, cope up with emotions such as anger, feelings of guilt, etc. And this technique, assumed by some that it would help reduce stress, will gradually lead to dependency. They would continue using the drug for pleasure and would later become conditioned to it. Eventually, it becomes an addiction.
Individuals who are addicts exhibit certain behaviours due to the influence of the drug. It is very crucial to understand that such behaviour is due to the changes that happen in the brain because of the drug and are not an individual’s own personality. But we must not forget that the drug creates an imbalance in the neurochemical activity of the brain. This might lead to serious issues such as depression, psychotic breakdown and even sudden death depending on the type, level of the drug and frequency of its use.
Our response to tackling addiction should be holistic; we must look at both prevention and recovery. Children must be made aware of the effects of drugs from the age of nine. Coming to recovery, we have to focus on aspects like behaviour and physiological needs of the individual. We also have to concentrate on the root causes of such behaviour. If addiction has started as a coping mechanism for a social phobia, that needs to be addressed to prevent relapse. We must check if addiction is the secondary cause of any primary illness like bipolar disorder, anxiety, etc.
Here, the taboo around meeting a psychiatrist or a psychologist has to be addressed. Individuals must undergo the process of detoxification with the help of a psychiatrist. They should also be informed about the after-effects of the drug on memory, concentration and motivation by a clinical psychologist if required. The psychologist can also resort to various other techniques: they can be provided with rational emotive behaviour therapy, problem- solving skills, solution-focused therapy. Developing alternative healthy behaviour, maintaining positive habits and a host of other techniques will also help.
The role the family plays in helping an individual recover from addiction is crucial.
The family should be informed about the emotional and physiological changes an addict undergoes. The family might also need behaviour modification. They should be supportive and must avoid sarcastic statements which remind the person about their past behaviour. This way, we can prevent relapse. An occupational therapist might be needed if a person has to be trained in motor skills. Eventually, the help of social workers might be needed to help those who have recovered land a proper job. It would make them more functional and occupied—which again lessens the possibility of relapse.
Though there is no cure for addiction, it can be managed with good family and social support. Though the above mentioned techniques seem easy on paper, it requires the dedicated effort of a team of professionals—psychiatrist, clinical psychologist, occupational therapist and social workers—to help an individual deal with addiction and its after-effects.