Over the past year, Ananya Mehra (name changed) has been taking her 19-year-old son for counselling sessions to treat his addiction to sniffing whitener.
‘Winking’ or the practice of inhaling white ink fluid involves mixing whitener and diluter in a plastic bag and then sniffing the mixture.
Psychiatrists say the addiction is increasing, with high-stress levels among students and easy access to these substances.
“My son lost interest in studies, he would be dazed and disoriented the whole day, he would feel giddy,” said Mehra. “As a stay-at-home mother I was able to gauge that he was not behaving normally, and then one day I caught him doing it.”
A year-long period of counselling and medication followed.
“He was made aware of the consequences, and he was also put on medication, so he successfully fought the addiction,” she said.
Doctors say children could begin experimenting with the substance around 13 or 14 years of age. Short-term effects might include hallucinations, disorientation, loss of appetite or more serious consequences, if left untreated.
“The chemicals can have a brain-altering effect, I have seen complete personality changes,” said clinical psychologist Shrradha Sidhwani.
Treatment involves a combination of counselling, medication (anti-depressants and anti-psychotic drugs) and in some cases hospitalisation.
“It takes a lot of time and requires cooperation from the student, as well as counselling of the parents,” said Dr Bharti Patil, who has treated eight such cases in the past five years.
The process is long-drawn out and requires will power and drive from the teenager as well as the family.
“The craving is high and the motivation to get treated is low, so it is difficult to even get them into therapy,” said Dr PC Shastri.