Demystifying Addiction

As a part of its annual symposium, the Department of Psychology, LSR College organized a Panel Discussion on “Substance Abuse”, on 10th March, 2017. 
The discussion was moderated by Dr. Parul Bansal, a faculty member of the department. The speakers for the session were Ms. Chhavi, Dr. Sameer Malhotra, Mr. Parveen, and Dr. Gorav Gupta. 


The session commenced with the moderator, Dr. Parul Bansal, introducing the topic of discussion – substance abuse – and its relevance in today’s date. She then introduced the panelists. The first speaker for the day was Ms. Chhavi.
Ms. Chhavi is a recovering alcoholic. She shared her account of her descent into alcoholism. Alcoholism runs in the family, she began. After her parents got divorced, she took up sports along with her brother. She was an athlete and a swimmer. She had always been the popular with her father’s friends, and was molested once as a child. At 17, she “crashed”, she felt burnt out. The partying and the drugs had finally gotten to me, she recounted. Her brother, at 15 was addicted to cocaine. He went to rehab, and eventually she followed. She spent a year there. After having taken a gap year after school, she decided to go to U.K. to pursue her higher education. She stayed clean for 2 years, and immersed herself in athletics, constantly pushing herself to become better. She thought she was doing well on account of having stayed clean – but unbeknownst to her, she was engaging in several secondary addictions like sex and shopping.
At the age of 25, she was doing quite well; she thought she had it all – a well paying job, was engaged to the love of her life and was clean. She had created a façade around herself. But she was given a reality check by a professional, who told her that her mannerisms weren’t reflective of a healthy person and that she was a ticking time bomb, waiting to explode. 
She had been an addict since 15 and at 26, she joined Alcoholics Anonymous, a help group for alcoholics, and she has been steadily recovering since the last 6 months. Ms. Chhavi’s story was told in a strikingly raw manner which captivated the audience, and left them impacted by her courage and vulnerability.
The next speaker was Dr. Sameer Malhotra. Dr. Malhotra is the Head of Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences at Max Hospital, Saket. He started off by talking of the intertwining of the disciplines of psychology and biology. He then told the audience about the instinctual drives that underlie an addict’s behavior. The dopamine reward pathway, he told, gets activated when the substance is consumed. There is a craving for the substance. One starts small, and as the use is continued, the tolerance develops. Eventually, the same amount does not bring about the same outcome of euphoria, and as a result, the tolerance develops and higher amounts of the substance are required to achieve the desired effect. When the addict tries to stop, they are likely to feel unease – either psychologically or physiologically. These are the withdrawal symptoms.
The addict is also likely to be in a state of denial about their addiction. Dr. Malhotra then talked about how it has now become a norm to smoke and drink. The young mind seeks the thrill of experimenting. He then asked the audience to guess how many chemicals there are in a cigarette. After a few guesses, revealed the actual number – 4800. The audience was stunned.

He then shifted the focus to another highly abused substance – cannabis. He has found that there is a rising tendency to rationalize the use of cannabis by listing its positive effects. Cannabis has very few recognized medical purposes – it is prescribed in the terminal stages of life, like in cases of cancer and HIV-AIDS, as therapy to decrease the pain. He then listed the commonly neglected negative effects – amotivational syndrome, the fact that it isn’t egested easily; once consumed, it stays in the body for at least a month or so. It can even lead to paranoia. 
He then elaborated on the factors that prevent addicts from getting rid of their addiction, like the addict’s friends who lure them into abusing again, and not letting them recover properly. He concluded by saying that without aim and purpose, life become mundane and this gives way to maladaptative behavior.
The next speaker was Mr. Parveen Katyal. Mr. Katyal is a recovering alcoholic. He has been sober since the last seven years. He shared his journey: He never drank in school or college but started drinking after joining his father’s business. He confessed that he never thought he would become addicted to alcohol. Alcohol took a toll on all aspects of his life – his work, his personal life and his health. He tried to get help from his friends and family but everyone adopted a preachy attitude toward him, which discouraged him from seeking help.  He felt absolutely isolated and went through a vicious cycle of emotions – shame, fear and remorse.
He started having black outs after drinking. He attributed this to the lack of knowledge about alcoholism. When he tried to stop drinking, withdrawal symptoms manifested in the form of seizures. At this point, his wife called Alcoholics Anonymous. Although he found like-minded people at AA, he was in denial about being an alcoholic himself. Reluctantly, he went to the meetings to satiate his family. He was at a low point in his life: he wasn’t working; he was constantly obsessing over alcohol when he wasn’t drinking and was completely powerless over it. He went through with the 12 step plan to recover but his spiritual awakening came about when he attended a conference organized by Aleteens : an organization composed of children of alcoholic parents. There, he heard a 13 year old girl speak about how she hasn’t ever been able to invite her friends to her house because of her father’s perpetual drunk state. When Mr. Katyal realized he had put his children in a similar position, that’s when he actually committed to recovering. He has had a significantly better relationship with his family ever since.
The final speaker of the day was Dr. Gorav Gupta. Dr. Gupta is a leading senior consultant psychiatrist who specializes in de-addiction medicine and rehabilitation. He decided to make the discussion more interactive. He recounted anecdotes from his college days when he along with his friends used to be proclaimed as the “naughtiest bunch”. He then shifted the discussion to the need to experiment in adolescents, which is triggered by all the hormonal changes associated with that stage. Quoting a recent research study, he said that it has been found that underage exposure to alcohol or drugs is bad, because of a higher risk of getting addicted later. He then talked of eating disorders, and the parallels to substance abuse. He kept posing questions to the audience all this while, going on tangent to the received responses. No addict wants to become an addict, he said, and any experiment can lead to dependence but not all of them do. He then appealed to the audience to tell anyone who they know is going through a similar struggle, that there are various forms of help available. Addiction is not a moral failure, but a disease beyond our control, he concluded.
The floor was then opened to questions and feedback. The students inquisitively clarified any doubts and expressed their appreciation of the insight imparted by the panelists. 
Tanya Dutta


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