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Broken homes, lack of attention leading to drug addictions among Mumbai’s rich youth: Experts

Most youngsters who are part of Mumbai Anti-Narcotic Cell’s rehabilitation programme are from affluent, disturbed families

mumbai Updated: Dec 02, 2017 16:37 IST
Debasish Panigrahi
Debasish Panigrahi
Hindustan Times
In 2015, the maximum number of suicide cases related to drug abuse was reported from Maharashtra.
In 2015, the maximum number of suicide cases related to drug abuse was reported from Maharashtra.(HT File)

When Pooja Bisht, a resident of Mumbai’s western suburbs, discovered a small sachet of white powder in her 19-year-old son Amit’s wallet early last month, she was forced to confront her worst fears.

Amit, a first-year B.Com student from a suburban college in the city, would miss his morning lectures frequently as he would get up only by noon. Pooja, a 45-year-old single mother and a top executive in a finance company in south Mumbai, could do little to change his schedule as she had to get to work in the morning. The college refused to promote him to the second year owing to his lack of attendance.

She also noticed many behavioural changes in Amit, but for a while she bought his excuses. There were many nights when he would not come home at all - he would explain his absence by saying he had group study sessions with friends - and at other times, he would lock himself in his room to “work on projects”.

With the discovery of the sachet of white powder, much of his behaviour fell in place - Pooja realised her son was doing drugs.

Early signs of drug addiction
  • Changes in sleep pattern. Your child sleeps for much longer at times, and is almost an insomniac at other times.
  • Isolation. Your child may not interact with you, not eat with the family, lock himself in a room, become reclusive.
  • Changes in daily schedules and habits. For instance, skipping classes.
  • Changes in behaviour. Your child is suddenly more argumentative, more irritable about small things, demands for more money.
  • Changes in appearance.
  • Things go missing from home. Also, be wary of excuses such as repeated loss of mobile phones or laptop.
  • Slip in academic performance.

Fearing peer criticism and social backlash, Pooja chose not to confide in her family and friends, but as she deliberated on what to do, she came upon the Narco Line (9819111222), a helpline run by the Mumbai police’s Anti-Narcotics Cell (ANC). Besides tackling drug-related crimes, the ANC also offers advice for drug-deaddiction and rehabilitation programmes.

Pooja fixed an appointment with the ANC – to begin with, she wanted to verify the substance she had found on Amit. The white powder was identified as Mephedrone (MD), a banned powerful synthetic drug that is known for its extremely addictiveness and toxicity.

Now, Amit is among the 60 odd youngsters who are part of the rehabilitation programme under the department’s aegis. All these youngsters are from urban, well-educated and economically well-off families, the ANC said. And 80 per cent of them have one more factor in common: they are from disturbed or broken families.

“It is sad, but true,” said Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Shivdeep Lande, who heads the ANC. “Majority of the youngsters going through our rehab programmes seem to have slipped into a drug habit owing to lack of parental attention or emotional insecurity.”

“This problem is endemic in countries where families are breaking down, or in case of parents who are too busy and don’t have enough time for their children,” says psychiatrist Dr. Dayal Mirchandani. Not all children suffering from emotional neglect opt for drugs, but some get into other dangerous habits, such as motorbike racing, he added. “By the time their problem is understood and some kind of therapy starts, their addiction is deep-rooted.”

Almost as responsible are factors such as television and social media. “Many parents are scared to allow children to go out and play for a host of reasons. Though their fear is not unfounded - there are so many crimes against children being reported these days - they are also depriving their children of physical exercise and social interactions, both healthy outlets that can help build emotional strength.”

In some cases, children who are sexually abused develop addictions such as drugs, Mirchandani added.

While parents of youngsters from educated, affluent families may identify the problem in time, get professional help and do expensive de-addiction treatments, substance abuse among children from slums and lower middle-class households often ends in a tragedy, said a senior ANC official, who did not wish to be named. “Because of lack of awareness and poverty, these parents use coercive techniques such as beating and locking them up to stop them from drug use. Very few of them approach doctors. And many such youngsters, faced with guilt and social pressure, commit suicide.”

This statement is not unfounded. As per the latest data released by the National Crime Records Bureau, in the year 2015, the maximum number of suicide cases related to drug abuse was reported from Maharashtra - 1,271 of the total 3,670 cases from across the country. The second state on the list is Madhya Pradesh, which reported 567 cases.

Noted clinical psychiatrist Dr. Yusuf Machiswalla said all children, especially boys, need a father figure. “In cases of legal separation, the child usually stays with the mother till he is 11, and then can choose which parent to live with. The absence of the father in the formative years affects the child, and he may end up choosing a father figure who is inappropriate,” he said.

Working parents should be particularly careful to not feel guilty and over-compensate for their lack of time with pocket money, he said. “Excess money makes it easier for youngsters to access drugs.”

Parental responsibility apart, Dr. Machiswalla said, schools could play a strong role in helping children cope with some of their emotional distress. “Classes on moral education, values and even spirituality could help the child overcome emotional trauma,” he said.

A change in the child’s behaviour, like becoming more aggressive or withdrawn, a drop in academic performance, or lack of interest in old friends and hobbies can be warning signs, Lande said. “If parents observe any sudden change in behaviour, they should pay more attention, and, try through friendly conversations, or by spending time together, to identify the problem.” It may be another issue altogether, but it could also be a result of drug abuse.

Volunteers working with non-profit organisations that are involved in de-addiction and rehabilitation programmes said cases of success are around 50 per cent. Machiswalla said such programmes follow three steps. “It’s a long process and requires patience. The first phase involves correcting the damages, both physical and psychological. Then begins the de-addiction programme. Thirdly, and importantly, the issues that led to substance abuse have to be resolved. Otherwise, there is the danger of relapse,” he said. The time taken for complete de-addiction varies depending on the history of addiction, from six months to two years, and in cases of severe addiction, even three years.

(Name of parent and child in case study changed to protect identity.)