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World No Tobacco Day (31st May)- What everyone needs to know about party drugs and performance aids

The line between casual use and drug abuse is thin and dangerous, and more often than not, addiction sneaks up on the adolescent with a gradual increase in use as it begins to fulfill a valuable need in the eyes of the user.

The teen years are a critical period of development, and adolescents are given to be experimental with many risk taking behaviors including the use and abuse of drugs and alcohol. The line between casual use and drug abuse is thin and dangerous, and more often than not, addiction sneaks up on the adolescent with a gradual increase in use as it begins to fulfill a valuable need in the eyes of the user this need could be anything from mood elevation to pain relief. Some teenagers may turn to substances simply out of curiosity or even as a faulty coping mechanism to deal with their feelings of loneliness, depression, stress or anxiety, or to cope with family related problems and stressors, explains Dr Samir Parikh, Director mental health and behavioral science Fortis Healthcare.

In addition, the following factors increase the risk of adolescents towards substance use and addiction:

  1. Early exposure to substance use or exposure to substance use in significant family members especially a caregiver
  2. Significant traumatic life event such as abuse, neglect or exposure to other psychosocial stressors
  3. Favorable attitudes to drug use, peer pressure or believing it to be cool
  4. Low self-esteem
  5. Aggressive or disruptive tendencies

Battling addiction How can healthcare providers contribute effectively

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According to Dr Samir Parikh, it is important to remember that substance use disorders are medical conditions, requiring adequate professional interventions, including a combination of medications and psychotherapy. Professional help is irreplaceable, and addictive behaviours do not change abruptly, but through a series of stages. Support and motivation are a very important part of a successful recovering addict, and once a person has developed a dependence on a substance, there almost always remains a danger of relapse. Counseling in such a scenario for the recovering addict as well as the family is very useful. (Read: Government urged to make Amitabh Bachchan the face of tobacco control campaign)

Therefore, in order to ensure an adequate management of such a battle against addiction, it is the responsibility not just of the healthcare providers, but for all of us to join hands and create an adequate awareness, as it is essential firstly for parents and family members to be educated with adequate and complete information regarding the nature of substance use. Many people may blame the adolescent for falling prey to such a habit, considering drug addiction to be a voluntary behavior or a character flaw. It is necessary to be able to bust such myths and to ensure that drug addiction be understood as a disease, which can be treated. (Read: Indian government needs to control tobacco menace: Siddhartha Mukherjee)

In their efforts to help the adolescent overcome such addictions, the parent or the family member must ensure that they develop a trusting rapport with the adolescent. The family members must not be patronizing towards them, instead being supportive and engage with the adolescents, encouraging them to seek professional help. Moreover, it is vital that the parents do not assume a penalizing role, instead involving the adolescent in the decision making process, providing a support system, and simultaneously making the adolescent take on the responsibility and commitment towards seeking help. (Read: Has 85% pictorial health warning on tobacco products led to the growth of the black market? FICCI says so)

In addition, it is the need of the hour to strongly advocate the preventive as well as curative aspects of mental health. As health practitioners, we need to promote private-public partnerships, in order to ensure that we come together to work towards targeting the very grass-root levels, and help make a difference in the community at large. At the same time, we need to promote an adequate training and empowerment of parents, teachers, social workers, staff and all those first-line workers actively engaging with children and adolescents, to be able to have the earliest identification as well as timely interventions for the young minds who shall form the future of our country. (Read: Tobacco control is the key to cut down the increasing cases of lung cancer)

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