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Drug addicts need support, compassion to reintegrate into society: Dr C J John

Dr C J John

Substance abuse is a major issue, and generally, when someone is identified as a drug addict, they are often treated as an outcast, branded a ‘drug addict’. But there’s a growing recognition that to combat drug abuse, drug addicts should be treated with compassion, counselling, and mental support to reintegrate them into society.

According to Dr C J John, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist of Medical Trust Hospital, Kochi, individuals grappling with addiction are often marginalised, stigmatised, and ostracised by society. “If a student is caught for drug abuse, the first thing the school does is to send the student out of the school. This flushing out aggravates the situation, pushing them further into addiction. We need to change our approach, prioritising empathy, understanding, and rehabilitation over condemnation. It’s imperative to recognise that addiction is a complex medical condition, characterised by compulsive drug-seeking,” Dr John said.

According to him, substance abuse transcends socio-economic boundaries, affecting individuals from all walks of life. “Relapse is normal for any drug addict. It’s not that easy for an addict to come out of addiction. We need to be patient. Rather than castigating addicts as moral failures, we must provide them with support and care to bring them back into mainstream life,” he said.

Stigma and discrimination surrounding addiction only serve to perpetuate harm and hinder recovery efforts. “A person becomes an addict due to multiple reasons. While a few start using drugs as a means of self-medication to alleviate symptoms of depression, anxiety, or trauma, the majority of them get into it for recreation because of peer pressure,” he said.

“Stigmatising drug addicts will only deepen their sense of shame, isolation, and despair. We must foster an environment of empathy, acceptance, and support,” he said, adding that the fight against drug abuse should begin from the family.

“Parents must keep a close watch on their wards. There are some early signs through which we can identify whether someone is into substance abuse. It’s also advisable to take the person to a medical expert for counselling at the earliest,” he added. Dr John also advises against families suddenly imposing restrictions rather than getting professional help for intervention and recovery.

“You need to consider addiction as a medical problem and seek the support of a professional. Many of the families still hide the addict, fearing shame from friends and other relatives. They try to manage the issue on their own, finally making things more complicated,” he added.

A few potential early signs of substance abuse to watch for in a student:

Declining academic performance (poorer grades, missed assignments, skipping classes).

Changes in behaviour like frequent outbursts, acting withdrawn, hostile, depressed or disrupted sleep patterns.

Diminished personal appearance or hygiene.

Bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, lack of coordination.

Sudden weight loss or gain.

Unusual smells on breath or body.

Changes in friend groups, secretive behaviours.

Loss of interest in hobbies and activities.

Suspicious patterns of cash flow through borrowing or selling possessions.

(This article is part of the anti-drug campaign #ChooseLife in association with Infopark, Kochi and Kerala Police.)

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