We all like the occasional drink. Or two. Or three. We also know when to stop. Well, most of us, anyway. But for some of us who have an addictive personality, three isn’t enough. And then, it doesn’t stop at alcohol. In 2009, the Narcotics Control Bureau estimated the number of addicts in the country at 7.5 crore. If you have any stereotyped notions of what an ‘addict’ is, now would be a good time to banish them. We got three men and women, all former addicts, to tell us their stories
Rehan, Cough syrup addict
“I am an addict. I didn’t have issues when growing up. In fact, it was a happy, upper-middle class childhood. Neither was there any alcoholism in the family. My dad drank every day but in moderation.
About six months later, a new friend pushed me to try cough syrup. Nothing happened initially. I went home and that’s when it hit me. It was such a strong feeling, I couldn’t shake it off. I experimented with marijuana, pills, and alcohol – but cough syrup kept pulling me. At my peak, I was downing about six bottles daily. I hid it well and no one found out. It took me a long time to admit I had a problem. At one point, I told my dad. He said "Buri aadat hai, bete, par choot jayegi." I wanted to scream no, I’m reaching out for help.
I heard about Narcotics Anonymous in 1995. At first I thought, this isn’t for me. I was sure I could quit on my own. My friend kept pushing me to attend the meetings. At one point, I accepted that I can’t fight it on my own. A year and a half later, I was clean.
The first day was difficult. There were withdrawal symptoms. Now, it’s been over 12 years and I am a marketing professional. I have a beautiful wife, a two and a half year old daughter; there’s another baby on the way; I have a wide circle of friends; what more do I need, honestly? Ritesh, Marijuana addict
"I blame my addiction on the environment I grew up in. There wasn’t anything in particular. I was just a loner and stressed out for some reason. Normal people go from school to college to a job. I went from school to college to not passing out of college and doing drugs.
I first smoked marijuana in my first year because I hated engineering. My parents wanted me to go into the Merchant Navy, another thing I had no interest in. So marijuana was awesome. It made my mind shut up for an hour or two. Slowly, I started using harder drugs.
There came a point a few years later when I did not remember one moment from the next. I almost went senile. At the peak, I would wake up and just head straight to my peddler. He opened shop at half past eight. I used to be plonked outside at a quarter past. I became so pally with him that I used to even get drugs on credit, which is an amazing achievement.
It was only a matter of time before my parents found out. Fortunately, they were very supportive. My mother asked me if I wanted to go into rehab and I instantly said yes.
Less than two hours later, I was in rehab. But 15 days later, I ran away. I roamed around all day in Delhi scoring drugs and doing them in an auto. Four o’clock on a Tuesday morning found me on a strange Delhi road with no money to pay the autowalla. That’s when the sense of guilt and shame hit me and hit me hard.
I didn’t want to go back into the rehab but I had no choice. It was there that I found out about NA. I was told that you can’t go back to your old life. I stuck around because I did not have anything to look forward to. I was empty and fearful.
After I got out from rehab, I did stay clean. But I still kept coming to NA meetings. They gave me a platform to be myself. I made friends. People wore nice clothes; they were happy! For the first time in three years, I laughed.
My life is so perfect now I could never have imagined it. I was always afraid of relationships but I got into my first one at an NA meeting. I’ve always looked forward since then, never behind. I’ve been clean for four years now. I love to play music, I love to write. I am doing all the things I really wanted to do. Today, I don’t need a reason to laugh. I just do.
Ruby, Drug addict
I came from a small town. There were a lot of problems in the family when I was growing up. Money was never enough; there was a lot of mental, physical, sexual abuse. I didn’t have a normal childhood.
It gave me an immense sense of relief from everything. I felt complete. I started with alcohol and in a few years, I was having it all. It was a fantastic relationship I had with drugs: I didn’t have to put any effort into it, I just had to ingest them.
It was only a few years down the line that the downward spiral began. I lost my job; my boyfriend, also a junkie, left me; my health went for a toss; at my lowest point, I thought I was going to die and not be found till way later.
I found out about NA in a dramatic fashion. I was reading a book which mentioned Alcoholics Anonymous and I thought, if there’s one for alcoholics, maybe there’s one for narcotics users. I went online and discovered there was one in Delhi very close to where I did my drugs! So I went to a meeting.
That was the first time I discovered that addiction is a disease. For years, I had had fingers pointed at me – in our society, a woman doing drugs is worse than guys doing them. But then, I realised that while I was not responsible for the disease, I was responsible for the recovery. I kept attending meetings for a year. Sometimes, I would use before the meetings. But people said, it doesn’t matter, just keep coming, one day, the miracle will happen to you.
And guess what? One day, it did. Over the last five and a half years, my life has changed completely. When I first stayed away from drugs for 24 hours, the relief was difficult to put in words. Today, I am a responsible person. I love my job. I take squash and salsa lessons. I have friends who I can share stuff with without being embarrassed. And my relationship with my family has never been better. At the rehab centre
Addiction is severe dependence on a particular substance. Some addictions can be dealt on one’s own, but heavy use of opiates, cannabis, alcohol and psychotropic drugs requires patients to be sent to a rehabilitation centre. This process has three phases:
Detoxification: To counter initial withdrawal and drastic mood swings, you need to detoxify the patient with vitamin supplements and lots of fluids.
Abstinence: The toughest part of rehab is to keep patients motivated to give up the addiction. You monitor their psychological behaviour and teach self-control. It is also important to make them confident so that they do not succumb again. Sometimes, group therapy is needed, and in severe cases, medication.
Maintenance: It is imperative to counsel friends and family on how to deal with a patient after he or she is out of rehab. Rehabilitation is successful when people around the patient learn to treat him or her with respect.
A patient’s success is dependent on her or his willingness to change. Some addicts require continual support.
— Dr Samir Parikh, HOD, department of mental health and behavioural sciences, Max Healthcare, Delhi
NA is a nonprofit society of recovering addicts who meet to help each other stay clean. There is only one requirement for membership: the desire to stop using. NA members work together to help each other stay away from drug usage and lead healthy lives. It currently holds meetups in all major cities. For more info, contact:
Delhi: www.nadelhi.org / 9891330555, 9818072887; Mumbai: www.nabombay.org; Kolkata: www.nakolkata.org / 9836223071; Bangalore: www.nabangalore.org / 9880590059; Pune: www.napune.org
Celebrities who overcame their addiction
Angelina Jolie: In 1998, Jolie confessed to doing “just about every drug possible”. Since then, she has become an Oscar-winning actress, a mother of six and even a UN Goodwill Ambassador.
Drew Barrymore: By 11, Barrymore was an alcoholic. By 12, she was doing marijuana, by 13 cocaine. She went to rehab twice and attempted suicide at 14. Today, she is an accomplished actress and producer.
Robin Williams: It’s hard to believe that the movie star and comedian was once a cocaine addict. But after the death of fellow comedian John Belushi, Williams checked into rehab.
From HT Brunch, December 11
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