This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by YLAC. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

The Silent Plague: Substance Abuse Among Young People

More from YLAC

By Ahhana Verma, Anam Aamer, Aryan Satiya, Dhruv Srivastava and Ridah Shanavas

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are solely of the authors and do not represent the views of YLAC as an organisation.

Trigger warning: mentions of substance abuse

A problem plagues the emerging generation of adolescents, and it is a plague across social classes and backgrounds. The problem is that of substance abuse. A while back, a Gurgaon-based NGO school was having its campus renovated.

While this was happening, a student came across some paint thinner and started sniffing it to the point where he got high on it.

The film Udta Punjab dealt with the menace of drug addiction among Punjab’s youth. Representational image. Photo credit: India Today.

He even dipped a rag cloth in it and licked it. A staff member found him with red eyes, and his parents were contacted. A counselor was provided by the NGO, but the lack of education and sensitivity caused the parents of the student to withdraw him from the school. 

Substance abuse takes 11.8 million lives globally every year. In India, adolescents and young adults account for the largest share of substance users with alcohol and tobacco being the most widely abused substances.

Genetics, family and school environment, mental health conditions, and social pressures are some of the major reasons for substance abuse among adolescents. Substance abuse can result in social, medical, physical, and psychological issues as well as socio-economic problems such as draining of family resources, distortion of relationships, and violence. 

Causes Of Substance Abuse Among Adolescents

When it comes to the causes, it can be broken down into family history and genetics, and other socio-economic and environmental factors. Having users in the family creates an easily available supply of substances, and also normalises their use in the eyes of adolescents.

Substance use can also alter neural pathways and functions. These changes are permanent and hereditary. If passed onto offspring, they could become genetically susceptible to substance dependency.

Media also plays a role in glorifying substance use, to the extent that alcohol and drug consumption is almost synonymous with fun and partying which adds to peer pressures.

The fact that most alcohol ads are targeted towards the youth doesn’t help either. Another major  factor that causes substance abuse is stress. This could include academic stress, abuse at home, or socio-economic pressures.

What is the impact of substance abuse like? When talking about the impact of substance abuse we tend to focus on their immediate consequences such as overdose, psychotic episodes, impaired judgement, and risky behaviours such as driving under influence (DUI), unprotected sex, and needle sharing.

Representational image. Photo credit: Indian Express.

We tend to miss out on their long-term effects, such as changes in memory, learning ability, and attention span, and development of medical conditions such as infection of heart valves, respiratory conditions, kidney failure, and HIV.

The hidden costs incurred by the society include impaired productivity at a society level, unintended pregnancies, increase in crime rates and interpersonal violence, and increased levels of stress within families.

Furthermore, society has to pay for the cost of substance abuse in the form of taxes which cover substance-abuse-related criminal justice expenses, social services, medical care, and treatment.  

Substance addiction can be considered a chronic illness when a dependency on substances is formed. This process can be broken down into three main stages which are: use and intoxication, withdrawal, and preoccupation. This cycle becomes more severe over time.

Addiction results in three main disruptions to the brain: formation of substance-related cues and triggers, damaging of the reward system, and reduction in control over one’s stress systems.

What Has India Done To Mitigate Substance Abuse?

The Indian government has implemented multiple policies and schemes towards mitigating the issue. The Scheme for Prevention of Alcohol and Substance Misuse by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MSJE) aims to protect a variety of at-risk groups including the youth.

Some initiatives of this scheme include rehab centres, training facilities for service providers as well as awareness camps, especially in rural areas.

Unfortunately, the rehabilitation centers have an inpatient care stay of 15-20 days which is too long of a time for individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds who rely on daily wages to provide for their families.

The Rashtriya Kishore Swasthya Karyakram (RKSK, or the National Adolescent Health Programme) is another scheme by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare that aims to improve adolescent health through objectives like mitigating substance addiction.

This is accomplished through peer educators in rural areas and adolescent friendly health clinics that conduct check-ups and provide treatment.

However, one of the biggest problems with the RKSK is its lack of preventive measures that can incentivise young people. Apart from government interventions, local communities also run undertakings to mitigate substance abuse among the youth.

A Gurgaon-based NGO that our team interviewed conducts substance abuse workshops for underprivileged children in metropolitan areas.

Furthermore, a leading school in Gurgaon that we interviewed explained that it has implemented multiple measures including awareness in classes and increased monitoring to ensure that its students do not fall prey to addiction.

If a child is caught using substances, the school brings in the child, parents, and school officials to ensure that such instances do not repeat. Although mass awareness campaigns are useful in the fight against drugs, our research suggests that excessive awareness can lead to the victim becoming unreceptive to the content taught to them, making it ineffective.   

Multiple initiatives, from both the government and NGOs, have been established to tackle this issue. But, they fail to address the crucial role played by the social and familial conditions. Hence, a multi-pronged approach involving all stakeholders, i.e. the individual, family, community, NGOs, and the government, needs to be established. 

What Have Other Countries Done To Protect At-Risk Youth?

Mantente REAL is the Spanish adapted version of the US-originated “keepin’ it REAL” program, implemented in Mexico that teaches students (11-19 years) to refuse drugs through a four-way strategy—refuse, explain, avoid, and leave (REAL).

It can be taught by school teachers over three months. It is cost-effective and based on a multi-cultural  model, making it feasible in India. In addition to this, the CQC program of Colombia can also serve as an effective model.

The program is aimed at teaching communities to make decisions based on data regarding drug and alcohol consumption and the identification of protective and risk factors. It requires active participation from parents of adolescents, local authorities, and the community.

While preliminary studies prove that the program is effective in preventing substance use at a community level, this may not be feasible in India due to the wide-spread stigma around addiction and substance abuse.  

What Are The Solutions?

Firstly, de-stigmatisation of the problem of substance abuse is essential for adolescents. This is only possible through making schools safe spaces so that students struggling with substance abuse can freely open up without fearing backlash.

As seen earlier, school-based programs have proven to be effective in preventing substance abuse. Additionally, NGOs can help provide vocational education to former addicts facing withdrawal issues. Vocational education helps develop skills used in multiple jobs.

These skills can then help addicts find employment with more efficiency. Lastly, a holistic joint monitoring plan should be created by the MSJE keeping in view the at-risk individual, family, community, and government to ensure that the individual is not exposed to addictive substances. 

Featured image is for representational purposes only. Photo credit: Pixabay.
You must be to comment.

More from YLAC

Similar Posts

By IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute

By Abha Thapliyal

By Amey Ollalwar

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

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.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

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.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

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.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

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.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below