NGOs and deaddiction


Alcohol and substance abuse are rampant in Indian society, and it’s left to the private sector to provide adequate support systems like deaddiction centres. The state is simply not equipped to provide the necessary infrastructure, says Ashwin Honawar.

ALCOHOL and drug addiction in India are becoming a very serious concern, indicate statistics compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau. One Indian dies every 96 minutes due to alcohol consumption. Over 85 percent crimes against women are committed under the influence of alcohol. Over 7,000 road traffic accidents were a result of drunken driving last year.
Statistics from various sources state, over 10 persons across India commit suicide daily due to drug abuse related problems. A much older report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment pegged the number of drug addicts in India at nearly 10.7million. Though these reports are compiled by government and foreign organisations, figures can be grossly outdated due to difficulties in gathering data. In fact, the number of alcoholics, drug addicts and crimes due to substance abuse could be colossally higher.
The Indian government is working in collaboration with World Health Organisation, various bodies of the United Nations, International Police Organisation (Interpol) and other entities to curb alcohol and drug menace in India. However, the greatest role in curbing alcohol and drug addiction in India is played by countless Non-Government Organisations (NGOs). These NGOs operate addiction recovery and rehabilitation centres, often with funds from donors and former addicts, as well as government grants.

Understanding alcohol and drug addiction
Addictions of any nature have many causes. Till date, scientists and the medical fraternity continue to grope in the dark over why some women and men become addicts, while others can consume alcohol or even a drug occasionally without the risk of becoming dependent. Broadly speaking, three factors are suspected to cause substance (alcohol and drug addiction) abuse among women and men:
• Genetic propensity: Despite insufficient scientific evidence, genetic factors are suspected of causing addic- tions among some people. There are various theories about genetic propensity, but none have been conclusively proven.
• Induced addiction: This is most likely the real cause of addiction. The human brain has a ‘pain’ and ‘rewards’ or ‘pleasure’ function. Hence, a person who consumes alcohol or drug for the first time usually experiences pleasure or ‘reward’. The brain’s innate nature of seeking ‘reward’ compels the body to consume addictive substances. Till a time that such consumption becomes a ‘pain’ due to depen- dency of the brain and body on the substance.
• Hormonal dysfunction: This theory may have some credence. Various hormones or chemicals in the brain trigger exhilaration, joy, anger, sorrow and other emotions. People who suppress these emotions for any reason find they can easily express their feelings after consuming an inebriating substance. However, they need drugs or alcohol everyday to vent their emotions.

Enter the NGOs
Unfortunately, a majority of physicians and psychi- atrists, family members, friends and the general public are unaware that an addiction is a sickness. It is a disease like no other, since there are no specific parts of the human anatomy that can be targeted for medication. The World Health Organisation, International Labour Organisation, and other world bodies recognise addictions as diseases, but this knowledge has not percolated to grassroots of the Indian society. Hence, addicts are ridiculed and shunned.
A majority of people, including close family members and friends, believe the addict is enjoying her or his indulgence. The stark reality is, the person is in immense physical and mental agony, and cannot find a way to overcome the all-powerful grip of alcohol or drugs.
This is where NGOs play a vital role: They under- stand that an addict needs external support and help to arrest the disease. NGOs are well equipped to help an addict recover from all evil effects of substance abuse, and rehabilitate them into mainstream society.
Generally, alcohol and drug addicts suffer from physical, mental and spiritual bankruptcy. Physical bankruptcy can be best defined as ill-health suffered by all addicts due to adverse impacts of alcohol and drug abuse. Mental bankruptcy is similar to physical, but of a serious nature. Addicts generally indulge in insane acts under the influence or have lost overall control of their life.
Spiritual bankruptcy occurs because addicts are unable to distinguish between right and wrong when it comes to fulfilling their cravings for alcohol or drugs. Hence, they assault family members for money, engage in petty thefts, or lie to borrow cash despite knowing they cannot repay.
NGOs help addicts overcome these three forms of bankruptcy. They operate rehabilitation centres. Here, addicts undergo a 90-days resident programme that helps them recover physically, mentally and restores
them spiritually.

The process of detoxification
It is imperative for any addict to stay away from alcohol or drugs for a prolonged period of time. The World Health Organisation and other forums aver that a period of 90 days to 120 days is sufficient to wean away an addict from a substance. However, willingness and active participation of the addict is of prime importance. Hence, all NGOs offer a three-month resident programme for de- addiction and rehabilitation.
Once an addict is admitted to a rehabilitation centre, the first step is detoxification. This is of prime importance. An addict is housed in a closed room with other patients and kept under constant medical supervision. The detoxification facility at a rehabilitation center helps addicts to stay away from the substance, and provides medical assistance required to overcome withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms such as Delirium Tremens can be life-threatening. NGOs provide the necessary medical support to counter such symptoms.
Once an addict has recovered from the initial effects of staying away from alcohol or drugs, NGOs have elaborate programmes that consist of various training sessions and lectures. In India, most NGOs use the 12-step programme of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.
Lectures based on personal experiences of addicts who have stayed sober for long periods, training programmes on how to say no to drink or drugs, classes on personality development, group games aimed at team building and some menial tasks are assigned to all recovering addicts. Rehabilitation centers operated by NGOs usually pack several activities in a 12-hour schedule for resident addicts. This helps them stay busy while keeping their mind off the substance.
Nutrition and fitness: Since NGOs operate on donations from individuals and charities as well as government grants, they charge very nominal fees for rehabilitation of addicts. A typical rehabilitation center operated by an NGO will charge about ₹30,000 for a 90-day resident programme. This works out to a little over ₹ 300 per day.
The amount is very affordable since it includes food, shelter, training and all other essentials such as toiletries, books and study material. NGOs also have provisions to admit addicts from economically weaker sections of the society free of cost, or charge highly subsidised fees. Rehabilitation centers operated by highly reputed NGOs offer very nutritious meals to recovering addicts. They also provide free nutritional supplements. Yoga and meditation is taught to all recovering addicts residing at rehabilitation centers operated by reputed NGOs. Additionally, recovering addicts are also given ample time to engage in sports such as cricket, football and volleyball within the centre premises.
Preventing high risk behaviour: NGOs also help addicts avoid high-risk behaviour. Casual sex is one of the largest fallouts of addictions. Addicts could contract Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immunodefi- ciency Syndrome (AIDS). NGOs do not turn away addicts afflicted with HIV or AIDS. Instead, they are treated with equal respect and their medical condition is kept confidential. Care is however taken to prevent others residents from getting infected due to inadvertent contact with blood or other body fluids.
Rehabilitating addicts: Some NGOs have tie-ups with companies for employing recovering addicts that graduate after the 90-day programme. Others offer in-house jobs, which are very useful for addicts who are disowned by family, and are destitute.

The Central or state government cannot combat addiction menace alone. They lack adequate resources. For example, Mumbai has just one detoxification center run by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai in Andheri (West), for the entire city. In Goa, a sole ward at the Institute of Psychiatry and Human Behaviour in Bambolim provides detoxification facilities. However, detoxification is only the first step towards recovery from any addiction. Hence, NGOs and their rehabilitation centres play the much needed role.

Ashwin Honawar

Ashwin Honawar is a journalist, content writer and blogger based in Mumbai. He has worked as a journalist with reputed newspapers, TV channels and digital media in India and abroad over the last 25 years. He has varied interests and writes on diverse topics.