Are We, as a Nation and a Society, Failing Our Alcohol Addicts?
Of all the liver cancer cases reported in hospitals, around 15 per cent are related to over consumption of alcohol.
Of all the liver cancer cases reported in hospitals, around 15 per cent are related to over consumption of alcohol.(Photo: iStockphoto)

Are We, as a Nation and a Society, Failing Our Alcohol Addicts?

Alcohol is the most widely consumed psychoactive substance in India, as per the ‘National Survey on Extent and Pattern of Substance Use in India’. The report released by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment.

Similarly, a recent survey conducted by the National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre (NDDTC), AIIMS, confirmed that 16 crore Indians consume alcohol and every third tippler needs help for alcoholism.

Not only has alcohol addiction reached serious proportions in the country, but the gap between patients and the medical assistance is also huge.

Of those who are alcohol-dependent in India, just 2.6 percent receive treatment and 0.5 percent are hospitalised for treatment. In general, access to treatment for people affected by substance use disorders is grossly inadequate.

Only one in 38 people who report alcohol dependence are getting any treatment and only one in 180 people who report alcohol dependence are hospitalised to address their addiction.

Also Read : Harms of Alcohol on Brain Persist Even After Quitting: Study

Liver Ailments on the Rise

Around 70 percent of the liver disease cases admitted at the Delhi government-run super-speciality Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences (ILBS), suffer from Alcoholic Liver Disease (ALD). Of all the liver cancer cases reported in hospitals, around 15 percent are related to over consumption of alcohol.

“20 years ago, the most common form of liver disease in India was Hepatitis B. A sea of change has happened since then, with people suffering from ALD of the severe type that is not seen even in the west.”
Dr S K Sarin, Director, ILBS

Despite claims of producing the highest number of doctors in the whole world, India still lacks the manpower to deal with the burden of mental illnesses.

The World Health Organisation, International Labour Organisation, and other world bodies recognise addictions as a mental disease, but this knowledge has still not percolated to the grassroots of the blissfully ignorant Indian households.

“There are only 4,000 psychiatrists and 900 clinical psychologists in our country! It is the need of the hour for the government to stop neglecting India’s mental health and focus on developing more manpower.”
Dr Jateen Ukrani, Consultant Psychiatrist at the PsyCare Neuropsychiatry Centre, Delhi

Also Read : Heavy Alcohol Use May Slow Brain Growth: Study

What Is India Doing to Combat This Issue?

“Substance abuse in any form, be it illicit drugs or alcohol, is harmful for the health and well being of the user as well as the community. It is an impediment to the security and development of a country, and adversely affects the global sustainability agenda. The negative impact is borne not only by the user, but also the family and the community.”
Says Samarth Pathak, Head, Advocacy and Government Affairs (South Asia), at the United Nations Organisation for Drugs and Crime

While the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment strategises for each district to support at least one de-addiction centre, the reality falls flat when the actual number of the centres in the National Capital Region (24 districts) is 11.

In an attempt to track down the early symptoms of alcohol addictions, NDDTC has come up with Alcohol Web India, a website wherein people can take an online test to understand the scope of their addiction and accordingly, acquire appropriate help but again, initiatives such as these fail due to low awareness among masses.

Partnering with the Society for Promotion of Youth and Masses (SPYM) de-addiction centres, the government is aiming to tackle this problem – focussing specifically on children, women and the underprivileged.

A call on the national helpline number for drug-de addiction lands you with the address to a not-so-nearby SPYM Centre, wherein the patient is enrolled for a period of three months to help him/her come out of the addiction.

“Every patient is a different case and will take his/her own time to heal. While the therapies provided at the centre work wonders in the treatment, the time limitation of three months fails to provide complete help to a lot of patients. Shouldn’t the patient get to decide when he/she feels better to get out of the centre?”
Rohan Sachdeva, former volunteer at one of the centers

The sad part about this, as observed by Mahi Goyal, who recently interned with the Delhi Government under a project called Cigrencil, is that once the patient, often a young girl/boy is out of the programme, they’re back on the streets witnessing the same peer pressure.

Also Read : Obesity, alcohol may up breast cancer risk: Study

Why Are Addicts Unwilling to Seek Help?

It took years for Anil (name changed on request), a resident of East Delhi, to come out to his family about his addiction and it took even longer for his family to accept the fact that their son needed medical assistance for this problem, and marriage or jhaad-phook (black magic) were not going to help cure him of his addiction.

Fortunately, despite the delay, Anil could still be saved and after year-long treatment, he finally detached himself from the self-consuming world of addiction. Unfortunately, even in this day and age, addicts are ridiculed and shunned.

“At UNODC, our focus is on ending discrimination against people with such disorders, with the motto ‘nothing less than what would be expected for any other disease’,” says Mr Pathak.

“I was lucky enough to have survived my disease for so long. I wish our society would start looking at addicts as patients rather than discarding us as immoral. Imagine how much that would help an addict to understand his own problem and seek help.”
Anil, Former Alcoholic

Anil and all others who’ve suffered like him due to the delay in treatment, put themselves at risk and the ones to blame are often their own friends and family.

”Alcoholism is often termed as a habit by the common man, but the fact remains that it is a disease. We as a society, need to wake up to the fact that depression and other mental illnesses underlie as symptoms of addiction. Awareness about this is extremely low and this further lags the treatment,” says Dr Ukrani.

Also Read : Alcoholism Successfully Reversed in Mice

What Can Be Done?

Despite employing several measures, the Central Government has failed at preventing the 3.3 million deaths that happen every year due to alcoholism (as reported by WHO) and the number only seems to be rising.

“The number of de-addiction centres in the capital is very few. The ones that are in place do not have enough resources and more often than not, the counsellors in charge aren’t even trained,” Ms Goyal points out the harsh realities.

According to Dr Ukrani, alcohol addiction disorders start as early as during the adolescent years and that is the ideal age to track them down.

“Age at consuming first drink in such cases is around 13 years but they come into treatment a decade later due to various factors. Steps should be taken to identify and treat such children early in their adolescence so that complications are prevented later. Only then can we ensure efficient preventive assistance.”
Dr Jateen Ukrani, Consultant Psychiatrist at the PsyCare Neuropsychiatry Centre, Delhi

Creation of non-clinical settings within the treatment centres, such as creation of facilities that encourage peer support groups and group therapies can also prove beneficial.

While the UNODC’s programmes such as “Education for Justice” and UNODC Youth Initiative aim to connect more young people from around the globe, to empower them with a platform to share their experiences, ideas and creativity, much is still to be done.

“A strong response to substance abuse must have it at crux, a public health-based strategy, focusing on human rights. This means looking beyond the statistics and seeing not ‘the addict’, but the ‘human being who needs our help’,” says Mr Pathak whose concerns ought to resonate within us as a society before it is too late for our nation’s addicts.

(Poorvi Gaur is currently studying at AJK MCRC, Jamia Milia Islamia. This is a personal blog, and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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