Drug addiction is a medical problem: Here's how you can help someone who's dependent on a psychoactive substance

Recognising the signs in a loved one or a friend can be the first, and perhaps the most important step, to getting them the assistance they need.

Myupchar October 29, 2019 17:30:47 IST
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Drug addiction is a medical problem: Here's how you can help someone who's dependent on a psychoactive substance
  • Psychoactive substances act on the central nervous system and alter the brain function for a specific period of time, leading to a change in perception, mood, and behaviour of the person

  • The World Health Organization defines substance abuse as continuous use of harmful or hazardous psychoactive substances, including alcohol and illicit drugs

  • Recognising the signs in a loved one, a friend, a colleague, can be the first, and possibly the most important, step to getting them the assistance they need

Over 3 crore Indians use cannabis and over 2 crore are habituated to opioids like heroin, according to the Magnitude of Substance Abuse in India 2019 report released earlier this year by the Union social justice ministry. Now, Punjab is taking the lead in fighting this drug menace.

Recently, the Punjab high court asked the state government to register private de-addiction under the new mental health act. Categorizing de-addiction as a mental health service is an idea that may be traced back to the American psychiatrist Dr Herbert D. Kleber. (You might remember him from the Google doodle on 1 October.)

Drug addiction is a medical problem Heres how you can help someone whos dependent on a psychoactive substance

Representational image. Image source: Getty Images.

As health practitioners around the world re-look at addiction as a medical problem rather than a moral failure, we revisit some of Dr Kleber’s ideas to see what India can take away from them.

What is an addiction?

Simply put, the urge to repeatedly indulge in an activity or use a substance that gives an utter sense of pleasure but which eventually harms the body is an addiction.

People can have addictive behaviours like a shopping addiction or gambling addiction. Or they could develop a dependence on a drug. Irrespective of the cause, addictive substances (and practices) alter brain chemistry and make it nearly impossible for users to resist.

In a 2018 Punjab Opioid Dependence Survey, surveyors found that 80% of addicts who participated in the survey had tried — unsuccessfully — to quit.

What is substance abuse?

The World Health Organization defines substance abuse as continuous use of harmful or hazardous psychoactive substances, including alcohol and illicit drugs.

Psychoactive substances act on the central nervous system and alter the brain function for a specific period of time, leading to a change in perception, mood, and behaviour of the person.

For example, MDMA (also known as ecstasy, Molly and X) affects the production of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. While serotonin and dopamine temporarily lift the mood, norepinephrine increases the heart rate and blood pressure.

Which drugs are the most addictive?

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, (NIDA), US, marijuana (cannabis) and synthetic cannabinoids are highly addictive. As are medicinal drugs such opioids (example, morphine) used for pain management, stimulants (like cocaine and crystal meth) used in the treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), sedatives like anti-anxiety drugs and over-the-counter medicines like dextromethorphan (cough suppressant), loperamide (anti-diarrheal).

According to the Magnitude of Substance Abuse study conducted by the National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, over 4.6 lakh children and 18 lakh adults in India need help to come off their addiction to inhalants and sedatives.

What are the signs of drug addiction?

Recognising the signs in a loved one, a friend, a colleague, can be the first, and perhaps the most important, step to getting them the assistance they need. Remember, drug overuse is not a moral failure, it is a medical problem with a medical solution.

According to the American Addiction Centre, the signs of addiction can be:

  • Physical: sudden weight loss or gain, red eyes, slurred speech, dilated or constricted pupils, etc.
  • Psychological: increased aggression, mood swings, paranoia (anxiety or fear for no reason), and hallucinations.
  • Social: constant lying, getting caught up in criminal activity, change in the group of friends, and isolation from the previous support system.

In March 2018, the Union social justice ministry launched a 24-hour national helpline for victims of drug overuse. If you see these signs in a loved one, call 1800-11-0031 (toll-free) for assistance.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health. For more information, please read our article on Drug Addiction.

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