Amy Winehouse’s father blamed her death on her struggle with de-addiction, claiming on Thursday that “her decision to lay off alcohol completely for three weeks was a lethal ‘shock’ for her tiny body,” which lead to the fatal seizure last weekend.
De-addiction experts confirm that dramatic withdrawal from addiction can kill. “Long-term alcoholics or heroin dependents should not go cold turkey as sudden withdrawal from alcohol, opiates and benzodiazepines can cause delirium tremours or potentially-fatal seizures, making it an inappropriate method for breaking addiction,” says Dr Sameer Malhotra, senior consultant psychiatry, who specialises in de-addiction at Fortis group of hospitals.What is needed, say experts, is a detoxification regimen involving prescription medication under supervision. "If the dependence is on opiates and smack, withdrawal symptoms should be managed under the supervision of a psychiatrist," says psychiatrist Dr Deepak Raheja, who heads the Hope Foundation and runs a rehabilitation centre in Chattarpur, Delhi.
Experimentation with drugs is starting younger than ever before, with adolescents and teens forming a substantial chunk of people visiting psychiatric clinics. “Smoking is the gateway for harder addictions, such as drugs. Most people usually start with smoking up cannabis and marijuana and then move to speed, a stimulant from the amphetamine group of drugs,” says Malhotra. “Among youngsters with easy access to money, cocaine and LSD use is common,” he said.
Mix ‘n’ match
Mixing drugs with alcohol — or poly-substance abuse — is getting popular with people looking to go beyond the anticipated high of a frequently abused drug. Some de-addiction experts in Delhi report a high 60% of the patients using drugs in combination than by itself.Mixing enhances the intoxicating and damaging effects on the central nervous system that controls vital body functions such as the heart rate, blood pressure, respiration and kidney function. "Mixing cocaine and ecstasy (MDMA or methylenedioxymethamphetamine) and hard drugs with alcohol is rising, as is young children’s dependence on solvents, from where they graduate to smoking tobacco and cannabis, which is cheap and easily available," says Dr Samir Parikh, senior consultant, psychiatry, Max group of Hospitals.
“Low self esteem, inferiority complex, peer pressure or lack of parental supervision cause people to turn to drugs. Undiagnosed mania or depression can also cause addictions,” says Dr Neha Malhotra, psychologist and behavioural therapist at Asian Hospital, Faridabad.
She cites the case of an 11-year-old with undiagnosed depression, which was giving him psychosomatic pain. “He was being treated for pain, but not for the underlying depression, which led to him getting addicted to smoking and solvents,” she says.
Going by present trends, there is a need for more de-addiction centres. “We need more standardised treatment and rehabilitation centres under the state mental health authority to ensure supervision of treatment,” says Dr Raheja. “The bigger issue is treating addition like a disease that needs to be treated using extensive counseling, therapies and close medical supervision,” he says.