• Covid-19 Helpline India

Addiction and Isolation

The term ‘addiction’ refers to a dependence on substances like drugs or alcohol. There are several kinds of addictions such as gambling, a porn addiction, an internet addiction or even an addiction to food consumption; to name a few. In this article, however, we focus on substance abuse involving drugs or alcohol, since these are the most prevalent in society. In 2019 the National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre (NDDTC) published a report on the magnitude of substance abuse in India. Therein, it is stated that over 60 lakh Indians suffered from drug addictions, with heroin being the most addictive substance followed by other kinds of opioids. Amongst these, around 8.5 lakh are addicted to intravenous drug use, which is most widespread in Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Punjab. The report further states that nearly 6 crore people were in need of help because they took harmful amounts of alcohol or were addicted to alcohol.

In March 2020, a nationwide lockdown brought about by the novel coronavirus was imposed in the country, cutting many off from the supply of drugs and alcohol. Numerous professionals have expressed concerns that such lockdowns and the following isolation can lead to a worsening of existing addictions; and also increases the likelihood of relapse amongst those who have managed to reduce their dependence on substances. Addiction is an illness which if left untreated, will only worsen. It is not something that can be left to delayed treatment. Further, the stress and anxiety brought about by the lockdown leaves those with cravings for substances ever more vulnerable. Cravings may even arise amongst those who were not addicted to begin with. With this in mind, the WHO issued a warning advisory to those suffering from anxiety stating that “alcohol is an unhelpful coping strategy during lockdown.” Experts also believe that social-distancing coupled with lockdown hampers even the help that family and friends could extend to victims of addiction. This issue is worsened by the fact that rehabilitation centers for those seeking help have closed down during lockdown. Many who did venture out were ill treated by those enforcing the lockdown- a sad reality in our country.

India has the youngest population in the world, thus making it unsurprising that most addicts in the nation stem from its youth. In fact, a study by the Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights on Substance Abuse by Children, found out that 100% of minors in trouble with the law were addicts! Minors such as these become addicts due to peer pressure, unmet expectations or unemployment. A heightened sense of frustration in today’s Covid-19-ridden world together with a lack of social support systems only increases peoples’ susceptibility to addiction. Not only relapses, but also the consumption of unlicensed liquor has increased during the lockdown. With all shops other than essential services being closed, addicts have taken to home-spun recipes and unlicensed liquor, leading to increased health risks. In the case of addicts who don’t take matters into their own hands, instances of altered behaviour brought about by a sudden consumption stoppage only complicate things further.

On top of those with relapses, those who may have lost jobs, are getting paid less, are basically struggling due to the economic pressures due to the lockdown; along with students/youth in colleges and universities who have been suffering from stress due to the uncertainty of exams and constant delays, may resort to drugs or alcohol as ways of subduing their feelings of agony. Online help through telehealth was started by the Indian Psychiatry Society (IPS) and various other institutes to reach out to patients. However, there are concerns regarding the feasibility of these methods in the Indian context. Most initiatives such as these lack helplines and workforce trained in delivering the requisite services. Also, many patients from economically backward backgrounds would not be able to access help due to India’s vast digital divide.

All in all, it is clear that the lockdown and resulting isolation has led to increased likelihoods of relapses, as well as an increased susceptibility to addiction. One of the major reasons is that the government closed down many rehabilitation centres in the country leaving patients with no help, and ultimately, relapse. People who have only partially recovered are more susceptible to relapse which is what would happen in such a case. In a situation when the government should have upscaled the SUD facilities, they’ve decided to go onto the other side of the road. Much of this comes from the rooted belief of people in our country that mental health problems are not as important, and do not warrant treatment commensurate to those of physical health problems.

by - Tanya Chandra

graphic by - Gayathri Nair

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