Many parents fail to understand, how and why their son or daughter became addicted to drugs, and that’s partly because these parents haven’t ever tried drugs themselves. Everybody has an opinion of his own about addiction, and these different opinions that people make about addiction and addicts, are very far from reality. As a society, we stigmatize the addicts, because we think that people who use drugs lack moral principles, that they lack willpower, that they are criminal-minded. We think that if someone really wants to quit drugs, he can do it simply by choosing to. It’s not just about good intentions or a strong will. The truth is that drug addiction is a disease which has both short-term and long-term effects. Apart from causing physical damage to the human body, drugs also harm the individual psychologically, socially and spiritually. In other words, addiction is the worst and longest nightmare for the person experiencing it.
Drugs are everywhere. No culture, no society; no country is free from drugs. Teenagers all around the world are dying due to overdose; still movies are inspiring youngsters to use drugs. On one hand we celebrate the use of alcohol openly, while on the other hand we brand a drug addict as a criminal. In 1956, AMA declared addiction in any form, including alcoholism as a disease. According to Wikipedia, Alcohol is the most harmful drug among the list of all drugs, and that’s because it causes more harm to the people around an alcoholic, than it does to the alcoholic himself. Way before a person tries a hard drug like cocaine or heroin, he tries alcohol or cigarettes, and both these drugs sell like chocolates in our country. Doctors call them the ‘gateway drugs’ – because nobody wakes up one fine morning and decides to inject heroin into his blood. Most of the addicts start their journey into addiction with a cigarette or a glass of beer. Last year, everyone realized that there is a big drug problem in Punjab. Fact is that the drug problem in Punjab didn’t grow overnight. As of today, the state has more wine shops than it has government schools! Anyways I don’t blame anyone, because drug addiction is not a supply problem. The problem we are dealing here with is the demand. So if a government is serious about kicking addiction out of their society, then they can’t do that just by hurting the supply, because even if the police catches 50 kilograms of heroin in a single raid, that’s not even one per cent of the heroin that has already been sold and is being used by the people out there. In fact, even if they catch all the available drugs in the country, a person who has an addictive behaviour will still find some other way out to get high, some other chemical to get hooked onto. So, in order to eradicate drugs from our society, we have to change a lot more than our drug laws. We have to kill the demand.
As a society we treat addicts like criminals. We judge them by their behaviour and disgrace them. We penalise them by sending them to jail. We remove them from the society and brand them as ‘socially unacceptable’. But there’s a nation that decided to do just the opposite. In 2000, Portugal had one of the worst drug problems in the entire Europe. 80% of adults were addicted to heroin. For years and years, they punished addicts, defamed them, and humiliated them more and more. And every year the problem got worse. Until one day, when the PM and leader of the opposition joined hands to tackle this problem once and for all. They set up a panel of scientists and doctors to figure out what would actually solve the problem their country was facing. And the solution that they came up with was the complete opposite of what we do: first, they decriminalized all drugs, from cannabis to cocaine, and second, they ran a massive program of job creation for addicts and started giving microloans to addicts for setting up small businesses. So for a mechanic, once he’s ready to work, they went to a garage, and said if you employ this guy for a year, we’ll pay half his wages. The goal was to make sure that every addict in Portugal had something to get out of bed for every morning. So basically, they took all the money they used to spend on punishing addicts and disconnecting them from the society, and started putting that money into connecting them back to the society. Today, almost nobody in Portugal wants to go back to the old system. Drug use is down. HIV is down, Overdose deaths negligible. And all this happened because addicts of Portugal rediscovered a purpose in their lives, they found something to forward to. They revived bonds and relationships with the society. They found a meaning to life.
There’s a great Canadian scientist called Bruce Alexander who did an experiment in the 70s. He called the experiment ‘Rat Park’ you’ll easily find it on Google. What he did was, he put a rat in a cage for a few days and gave it two water bottles. One was water, the other was water mixed with heroine. Almost always the rat preferred the drug water and died quickly. Bruce said that because the rat was isolated and had nothing to do, there was no option for the rat but to use drugs, it was his way of seeking relief. Now that’s the story of an empty cage. What Bruce did now was, he made a huge rat cage with multiple stories, put a dozen rats of different sexes in it, and named it the ‘Rat Park’. The rat park had cheese, colored balls, tunnels and a lot of friends to play with. And there were the two water bottles. Believe it or not, none of the rats liked the drug water, none of the rats died, and that’s majorly because they were happy and had bonds and connections to live for. Addiction is all about your cage, it’s a result of what a person experiences in his life. Let’s not call it addiction, let’s call it connection. We humans have a natural and inborn need to connect. When we’re happy and healthy we’ll connect & bond with each other. But if you’re lonely/upset/beaten down by life, you will connect with something that will give you some sense of relief. That might be video games, pornography, cocaine, cannabis, but you will bond and connect with something, because that’s our nature. That’s what we want as human beings. Addiction is a problem, but it’s not the problem, it’s an attempt by an individual to solve the bigger problem in the first place. We have to solve the problem at the grassroots level.
The WHO has a policy on Prevention of Drug Abuse in Schools that says every school must incorporate ‘child development programmes’ that help the students in improving their family relationships, their critical thinking and their behaviour, because such characteristics define what kind of person the child is going to become in future. Even colleges should regularly create awareness about the effects of drug abuse as well as its related consequences in life. Such programs should be interactive, and should be led by the students. Our schools and colleges talk about drugs on 26th June to celebrate International Day against Drug Abuse, and unfortunately, that’s the only time they talk about it. Meanwhile, students continue to feel bad about falling grades, they go through anxiety, depression and a whole lot of mental stress. It is human nature to seek relief in some or the other way so that such negative feelings go away. Students seek relief through smoking, video games, gambling and watching porn movies. These are also addictions, and they come into a person’s life many years before other more harmful addictions due to sheer ignorance by the parents. And then parents say that we didn’t come to know when our child became an addict, but actually, if those small symptoms were identified and addressed at the right time, the child would not have become vulnerable to other harmful addictions. Every school, college, corporate has to take charge. The society has to intervene, before we have a nation full of addicts.
We have to ‘nip the evil in the bud’.
Author – Gaurav Kalra