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Drug Addiction Is A Disease, Not A Choice

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On Tuesday, July 24, pop singer Demi Lovato was hospitalized after an apparent drug overdose of heroin. Lovato had previously struggled with addiction and had been sober for over six years. However, she allegedly relapsed and had been very open about it. She wrote a song named “Sober” in which she sings:

“Mama, I’m so sorry I’m not sober anymore / And Daddy please forgive me for the drinks spilled on the floor / To the ones who never left me / We’ve been down this road before I’m so sorry, I’m not sober anymore.

And I’m sorry for the fans I lost who watched me fall again / I wanna be a role model / but I’m only human.”

Lovato has been very open in term of maintaining her sobriety. Only in March, she wrote on Twitter

When the news related to her hospitalization came out, I saw the typical insensitive reactions that are usually shown towards people with addiction problems. Some said that she asked for it and others vilified her status as a drug addict. “Why did she have to use in the first place?” someone asked on Facebook.

Addiction is not a choice of lifestyle. It is a pit one falls into which in most cases goes out of control. Consuming narcotics results in a deadly form of addiction and people find it difficult to come out of it. It is a disease characterized by withdrawal effects like violent behaviour, excessive sweating, stomach cramps, headaches, nausea, fever, pupil dilation and so on. Opioid withdrawals can even lead to death. Diarrhoea and vomiting result in dehydration and hypernatremia (elevated sodium levels in the blood), thus leading to heart failure. Apart from that, the brain itself is programmed in a different, changing the person’s character and appearance.

Numerous studies claim that there are genetic factors which lead to addiction. In an article in New York times, David Slack, psychiatrist and chief executive of elements of behavioral health, wrote, “The genetic risk for the various drug addictions has been estimated to range from 40 percent to 60 percent for alcohol, and other common drugs of abuse. Genetic studies have been interpreted to support the hypothesis that multiple genes contribute to this risk rather than a single recessive or dominant gene. Genetic variations in specific genes offer an explanation of why some populations are so susceptible to alcoholism and others are not.”

The awareness related to the same should not be limited to etiquette but also the necessity to show empathy towards those who are struggling to overcome and to appreciate those who came out of it. Lovato’s lyrics reflect what goes many addicts go through, they all want to come out of it but it is not in their control.

“Through the persistent erosion of function in those areas, you see characteristic patterns that are common to all addictions: impulsiveness, inability to control behavior, swearing you’re never going to use again and then using, things like that,” Thomas McLellan, a substance abuse researcher and founder and chairman of the Treatment Research Institute says. “While drug misuse involves using an abusable substance voluntarily in a way that could hurt yourself and/or others, drug addiction develops after recurring periods of misuse to the point that it begins to affect your brain circuits, specifically ones that control motivation, inhibition, reward sensitivity, stress tolerance, and cognition.”

Narcotics such as cocaine, heroin, morphine, codeine, and amphetamines are used for treating patients who have pain related to cancer, lacerations, and amputations. While administering the narcotics, the patient is also given medication to prevent possible addiction. Deaddiction itself is a step by step process which needs full attention.

Medications are also present to prevent or treat addiction. “In most cases, these medications work by blocking the rewarding effects of addictive drugs or by decreasing drug cravings and other protracted withdrawal symptoms that occur after the drug abuse has stopped. Most recently, research efforts have focused on developing vaccines to fight addiction. The vaccine that has moved closest to clinical approval is for the treatment of cocaine addiction. The idea here is to use the body’s immune system to attack the drug and prevent it from reaching the brain, David Slack continues in his article.

Hollywood stars have had a reputation of indulging in activities which are bad for health and this is a terrible influence on those people who look up to them as role models, especially since most of their followers are children and teens. Lindsay Lohan, Amanda Byrnes, Britney Spears and Demi Lovato have all been in the public eye and their lifestyle has been on the tabloids. My father sarcastically told me once that all successful pop singers and child actors end up as drug addicts. Which raises the question – how much does lifestyle contribute to addiction? Is it seen as a cultural thing? Or do people indulge in the same due to peer pressure and availability?

In India, possession of narcotics illegally in a non-bailable offence. There are arguments which speak on behalf of legalizing marijuana by calling it less severe when compared to the effects of alcohol. Alcohol itself can lead to dangerous addiction and excess consumption of the same is hazardous to health. Actor Daniel Radcliffe, who had a drinking problem during his teen years said that he gave up the same because he felt like he could lose control. “I drank thinking that I will find happiness but I woke up one morning thinking ‘I drank a lot but I am still not happy’. If you wake up in the morning and don’t feel happy then think about it, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Actress Drew Barrymore suffered from substance addiction in her teen years but she came out of it and have not relapsed. Actor Robert Downey Jr suffered from a 20-year-long dangerous addiction but his success story reflects that it is not too late and coming out of the same is totally worth it. In his own words on Oprah show, Downey said, “I relapsed several times publicly, but still remained persistent and didn’t give up. It is not that difficult to overcome these ghastly problems. What is hard is to decide. Oprah Winfrey had a cocaine addiction problem which she shed before coming into the limelight.

The effects of marijuana are less severe but it is still dangerous as a stepping stone towards more dangerous forms of drugs including opioids. The show “Breaking Bad” reflects the same when DEA agent Hank intervenes and tells his nephew about how “pot” leads to another thing.

So why do we have to consume substances that negatively affect our bodies and minds? At the end of the day, the most successful is not someone who scored high but those who don’t have to get high to find happiness. The richest person is not someone who has crores in his bank account but someone who is physical, mentally, physiologically and psychologically healthy.

If there is someone who is dealing with addiction or if you come across someone who wants to indulge in drugs, then as long as you can, intervene and stop them. Substance addiction, including alcohol, does not just affect the person who consumes them but also those around them as it drains them financially and the behavioural changes can break relationships.

Image source: Anand Sharma/Getty Images
You must be to comment.
  1. Dr. Barun Kulkarni

    Absolutely….. not only drug addiction, each abusive material addictions are disease…..

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

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campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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