Substance abuse increasing rapidly in India

Only one in 38 addicts get treatment


February 21, 2019

/ By / Kolkata

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Every third alcohol user in the country is abusing alcohol and needs treatment for their addiction, says the report

Every third alcohol user in the country needs treatment for their addiction

According to a 2018 WHO report the per capita alcohol consumption in India increased two folds between 2005 and 2016.

Earlier this month, there was news of toxic alcohol ‘laced with methanol’ killing around 100 people in north India. The root cause behind it was the consumption of cheap, locally made liquor that is common in parts of rural India. In order to increase its strengths, bootleggers often add methanol, a highly toxic form of alcohol, sometimes used as antifreeze, to their products.

Soon after these incidents that made front page news,  a recent survey report by the National Drug Dependent Treatment Centre (NDDTC) under AIIMS came out stating that at least 57 million Indians (5.2 pc of the population) are dependent on alcohol and need treatment for alcohol abuse. The study further revealed that 160 million people in India between the age of 10 to 75 consume alcohol. Every third alcohol user in the country is suffering from its abuse and needs treatment for their addiction, the report said.

The survey, which was submitted to the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment highlighted that more than 400,000 children and 1.8 million adults needed help for inhalant abuse and dependence. However, only one in 38 people with alcohol dependency are reportedly getting any treatment for it.

The male-female ratio in terms of alcohol consumption has been recorded at 17:1, 27.3 pc of men consumed alcohol in the country in comparison to 1.6 pc of women. With men dominating the numbers, nearly 30 pc reportedly consumed desi liquor or India-made foreign booze. According to the report, Punjab, Goa, Tripura, Chhattisgarh and Arunachal Pradesh are most dependent on alcohol, with Uttar Pradesh leading the share of alcohol drinkers in India. In terms of cannabis, Delhi, Punjab, Sikkim, Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh topped the charts, with maximum number of addicts.

Dependence on other drugs

The report titled Magnitude of Substance Use in India showed that usage of other psychoactive substances such as cannabis (bhang and ganja/charas); opioids (opium, heroin and pharmaceutical opioids), cocaine, amphetamine type stimulants (ATS), sedatives, inhalants and hallucinogens have also increased.

Around 31 million Indians (2.8 pc) have been reported to have used cannabis product, 22 million people consumed bhang, and ganja/charas were consumed by 13 million people, in last one year. Out of this around 7.2 million Indians need treatment for their cannabis dependency, 6 million for opioid dependency and another 4 million need help for their dependency on inhalants, sedatives, amphetamine type stimulants, hallucinogens and cocaine.

According to Dr Atul Ambedkar, professor, NDDTC, AIIMS, “It is for the first time a categorical survey on Psychoactive substances has been conducted in India including all the states and Union Territories.” “AIIMS, heroine consumers in India have also increased over the past years at 1.14 pc — which was recorded at 0.2 pc during the last survey published in 2004,” he added.

Alcohol consumption doubled in India

According to the global status report on alcohol and health 2018 released by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the per capita alcohol consumption in India increased two folds between 2005 and 2016. Indians consumed 2.4 litres of alcohol in 2005, which increased to 4.3 litres in 2010 and scaled up to 5.7 litres in 2016, the report said.

According to the report, more than 3 million people died as a result of harmful use of alcohol in 2016 and the highest increase in alcohol consumption is expected in South-East Asia, with an increase of 2.2 litres in India alone, from 2005 to 2016. The report highlighted that 51.1 men per 100,000 population and 27.1 women per 100,000 population suffered from liver cirrhosis. Cancers associated with alcohol abuse resulted in 181 men per 100,000 population and 126.4 women per 100,000 population.

Action needed

The major problem to curb alcohol abuse in the country is that there are no central measures taken by the government. Even though most states have made the legal age for drinking to be 25, in some states the legal age is still 18, leading to addiction development from an early age. While some states tax alcohol, it has mostly been counter-productive, encouraging bootlegging and substitution with narcotic and psychotropic substances. Of the estimated five billion litres of alcohol consumed every year in India, about 40 pc is illegally produced, according to the International Spirits and Wine Association of India.

Poisonous homemade alcohol is a huge problem in India, claiming hundreds of life each year, especially the poor. In 2015, at least 100 people in a Mumbai slum were killed, and in 2008, in one of the largest incidents of this kind in recent decades, more than 170 people died after drinking an illicit home brew in slum areas of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

It is time when the state government must work on developing better awareness programmes and more de-addiction centres not just in urban but also in districts. Both the state and central governments need to associate themselves with non-governmental organisations to help tackle the crisis.

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