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#puneonmymind: Mukta Puntambekar on how to tackle addiction among teenagers

We used to think that Class 8 is a good time to discuss addiction. However, over time we have realised that Class 5 is when we should start talking about it. If a parent or teacher can speak to kids at this age it will be of great help. One step to help protect youth from addictions is creating awareness through social organisations, and at home and school, says Mukta Puntambekar, deputy director, Muktangan Mitra.

pune Updated: Jul 13, 2018 16:16 IST
Mukta Puntambekar
Mukta Puntambekar
Hindustan Times, Pune
Pune,Ideas For Change,Mukta Puntambekar
Mukta Puntambekar, deputy director, Muktangan Mitra.(HT PHOTO)

To begin with, I would like to point to a new trend of decreasing age of addicts. We are getting more and more teenagers as patients, not only boys, but also girls. These are very serious trends: the decreasing age-group and the fact that young girls and women are getting into addiction.

When we try to understand why this is happening, the primary factor that emerges is the social acceptance of smoking and drinking. Also, there is easy availability of so many party drugs. Further, people are of the opinion that cannabis is not addictive and is socially acceptable. There are many misconceptions that drugs relieve tension or give happiness.

As a society we have to do something about these misconceptions. It is important to create awareness in society and this should happen right from the school age.

We from Muktangan rehabilitation centre have a programme called ‘Let’s talk about drugs’, which we conduct in schools. However, it is not enough because at any given point we can reach only so many schools. What about schools outside Pune and surrounding areas? Hence, it is important for society - teachers and parents - to talk to children. Unfortunately, it is generally believed that addiction and sex should not be discussed in the open. Children have a lot of curiosity when it comes to these topics and it is better we give them proper information at the right age, or else they start to rely on the internet or friends and end up with a whole lot of misguided information.

Earlier we used to think that Class 8 is a good time to discuss these issues. However, over time we have realised that Class 5 is when we should start talking about it. If a parent or a teacher can speak to their kids at this age it will be of great help to these young people. So, this is one step to help protect the youth from addictions, creating awareness through social organisations and at home and at the school .

Secondly, many youngsters get introduced to an addiction through parents; for example, if they see their parents drinking socially, they get attracted to it. I have also seen parents who believe that if they introduce their child to beer or other alcoholic drinks, then s/he will not drink outside. If you are going to do this then you are basically telling them that it is okay to have it. If you want your child to be away from something, you have to stay away from it too. Parents need to set an example and they play a huge part in setting a role model for their children.

Thirdly, communication between parents and children is very important. I remember one such case where we had a young, junior college student admitted to our addiction centre. When I was talking to him about how his addictions started, he shared how he was a very good student till Class 8. One day, he noticed a group of boys smoking. When he got home he asked his mom about it she completely freaked out and yelled at him. She was very angry and scolded him a lot. However, his curiosity wasn’t satisfied so he went up to those boys, who encouraged him to give it a try. What started with smoking went on to more dangerous substances and he was admitted here for de-addiction.

Now, the mother had a very good opportunity when her child had come up to her. She could have calmly explained the side effects and issues revolving around smoking. If she was unsure, she could have told him so and together they could have found out. Communicating with him at that point was important. You can always admit that you don’t know and then approach a doctor or a counsellor.

I have seen how parents focus on what their child is wearing, or his/her hairstyle. Here I feel, parents should focus on communicating about serious issues and not be bothered by trivial problems.

Addiction signs to look out for

1 Appearance changes (does not always apply)

2 Hygiene changes

3 Appetite changes (overeating/loss of appetite)

4 Child is always irritable

5 Sleeping for long hours

6 Academic performances fluctuate

7 Friend circle changes

8 Maximum time spent in washrooms

9 Change of teeth colour

10 Different odour from the body

How to address addiction issues

• Observe behaviour and have a discussion first thing in the morning.

• Don’t lose your temper

• Be calm and patient

• Immediately approach a counsellor

• It’s better to approach at an early stage than wait for the situation to worsen

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First Published: Jul 13, 2018 16:16 IST