The Problem of Youth Addiction and How You Can Help
They live in the shadows. Maybe you've seen them. They follow each other to dark corners, hands full of poison. Used needles and stained prescription bottles litter these corners. In tight huddles, they look at each other–bloodshot eyes–they inhale the poison.
Some jab their arms with thin needles to empty syringes filled with cocktails of toxins. Others sit on black dirt with their heads against brick walls stitched with beads of concrete. They look anxious and almost content, breathing heavily with their eyes wide and turned upward.
A sixteen year old boy says, "save some for me"–his hands look many years older than sixteen. He wants his share.
Youth Drug use in India, on the Rise
Illicit drugs have poisoned the shadows of India for a long time. And those huddled in the shadows are increasingly young. In our country an overwhelming majority of those addicted to illicit drugs like opium, heroin and cheaper synthetic substances fall between 15 and 35 years old. With many of this population unemployed and frustrated, drugs are a perfect form of escapism.
Unfortunately, the addict population doesn't stop at 15. School boys in Punjab have a reputation for eating small black balls of opium paste, or sipping mixtures of green tea and drugs before class. In fact, in the border state of Punjab more than half of all rural households are home to at least one drug addict; and more than 70 percent of the state's youth population use drugs regularly.
Numbers like these give reason for concern, and seem to indicate the future of India is at stake. Yet public officials are reluctant to do anything as drugs and alcohol contribute much towards the economy.
But the problem isn't the numbers, it's the individuals represented by the numbers–the youngsters.
The Dangers of Starting Young
Studies demonstrate that the younger you start using drugs or alcohol, the greater your chances of becoming addicted.
For example, if a 13 year old boy starts using alcohol regularly he has a 43 percent chance of becoming a severe addict some day. But if that same boy had waited until his 21st birthday, his chances of becoming an addict would have dropped to 10 percent.
Every footballer or cricket player that makes it into the professional leagues has played nearly his entire life. Using drugs and drinking alcohol is similar–the longer you do it, the more it becomes a part of your who you are.
Some Science Behind Youth Drug Addiction
Studies indicate that young people are four times more likely to become addicts. Everything from physical development, to the maturing of the mind occur during our early years–and the younger the mind the more likely dependence to a substance like alcohol or opium will develop early on.
As you grow up, your brain determines which biochemicals it needs to stay healthy. The most important of these chemicals, called neurotransmitters, play a major role in everyday functions like eating, sleeping and overall mood.
When drugs are introduced to a developing mind, the brain may mistake the substances as important neurotransmitters. The brain then programs itself to depend on these substances to perform certain functions, causing the individual to crave drugs.
Steps to Take if You Suspect Addiction
Maybe you've found yourself huddled in a dark corner seeking escape with drugs. Or perhaps you fear a loved one is falling prey to the malevolent fingers of addiction. Either way, you're not sure what to do.
To be honest, it doesn't get easier from here. But there is hope.
If you're a parent, and you suspect a problem, the first thing you need to do is address the issue. Tell your child you love him or her, and that you want to help. Don't go into the conversation as confused as your child. Have a plan.
Consider the treatment options available nearby. Perhaps you can contact a local counselor, or de-addiction centre that admits young people. Here is a comprehensive list of de-addiction centres treating youth addiction.
Maybe you're a concerned friend or peer, the best thing you can do for your friend is tell an adult, preferably the parent, or counselor you trust. This will help you navigate your friend into a good recovery situation.
Help India Recover
Regardless of your public position or perspective, you can absolutely do something to help curb addiction in India. Be an advocate for a de-addiction centre. Volunteer to help provide food or shelter for struggling addicts. Encourage struggling addicts you know to seek help.
Clearly there is a massive wave of addicts trying to stay afloat down the unforgiving waters of addiction. India can only recover one person at a time. What are you doing to help? Do you know of an NGO that is doing great work to help our addicted youth? Please let us know in the comments.
- Shaw, Brian F., Paul G. Ritvo, and Jane Irvine. Addiction & Recovery for Dummies. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Pub., 2005. Print.