Impact of alcohol and drug abuse on families
Family structures across India have undergone massive transformation at various levels. The disintegration of the joint family system which comprised of multi-generational families, into nuclear families to single‐parent families, stepfamilies and foster families, has led to multiple social issues, prominently the consumption of alcohol and drug abuse has become more rampant now than ever before. When a family member abuses alcohol or other kinds of drugs, the effect on the family may differ according to the family structure.
Newspaper reports are replete with rising criminal behaviour among youngsters. It is not just minors but also adults who are becoming more sadistic and lethal when challenged by rivals or even by close family members. As society becomes aggressive and violent and start modelling their behaviour on the kind of mindless violence enacted in movies and web series, there need not be any doubt that the society is fast disintegrating. The craze for violence filled Korean web series and video games is spurring aggressive tendencies in youngsters. The Covid lockdown and consequent closure of schools, colleges and entertainment centres, compelled many youngsters to explore the internet, which abounds in content not meant for minors. Lack of supervision by elders has created a grave situation. This is a problem with identifiable manifestations in all strata of the socio-economic environment, giving rise to the use of drugs/alcohol leading to marital discord and break-up, and single parenting, which is creating complex societal issues.
The above alarming deviation of society compels us to deliberate on the consequences of substance abuse especially psychological consequences that spouses, parents, and children experience. Many youth indulge themselves in drugs and substance abuse for all sorts of reasons. They range from dysfunctional families, peer influence, availability of alcohol and drugs, influence of the social media, unemployment and stress, rejection in love affairs and so on. Such myriads of reasons are given as justification for indulging in abusing drugs at such an young age. In addition to this, factors that might be beyond an individual’s control such as personality, genetics as well as the environment are also fundamental determinants of drug abuse. Recently, India’s apex child right’s body – National Commission for Protection of Child Rights and the Narcotics Control Bureau have asked all Police stations for regular checking of CCTV cameras installed around schools and educational institutions to check drug and substance abuse by kids. It has also recommended that chemists sell drugs under Schedule H, H1 or X only by updating information in mobile app-based management information systems to ensure that underage kids do not get them without prescription and develop dependency.
Alcohol use is usually associated with pleasure and for this reason many people do not take into account the dire consequences that overindulging in alcohol can cause. Over consuming alcohol eventually leads to a condition known as alcohol dependency. It is for this reason that numerous initiatives have been started by different State governments and several NGOs to raise awareness about the negative consequences of alcoholism.
Child neglect is the most glaring example of the negative effects of alcoholism and drug abuse. Neglected children end up having lasting damage which hampers their emotional development. In the end, such children might end up consuming alcohol or consuming other drugs themselves, a factor which continues the vicious cycle. In addition to feeling helpless over their inability to liberate their parents, such children might turn to abusing hard drugs to escape from their hopelessness.
Sociologists are quick to point out that poor parenting is the main reason for the rising deviant behaviour among minors. This is a global phenomenon and many countries have enacted strict parental responsibility laws which can hold parents guilty of improper supervision of a minor, if their child gets involved in any criminal activity. The problem is most parents feel that their responsibility means catering to the materialistic demands of a minor. Thus they ensure that the minor gets his choice of electronic goods, satisfies his craze for fast foods and desserts, given access to use motorbikes and cars freely, and spend long duration of time on the internet. The digital world is now shaping and moulding the child’s character. The child is battered with a steady stream of violence ridden serials showing aggressive and domineering traits as heroic and desirable qualities to be acquired. Minors start displaying violent streaks in their behaviour and start mimicking scenes of violence shown in movies and web series. Elders tend to shrug it off lightly, but there is a grave danger that such behaviour gets reinforced in the child’s personality and plays havoc in his future.
Another trait acquired from the movies and web series is abusing alcohol and drugs. Minors are tempted to taste such forbidden pleasures in the secrecy of their rooms, bathrooms or in the company of friends in parks or abandoned places. Sex being an integral part of films and web series, many minors get entangled in hasty affairs or seek illicit pleasures.
Alcohol involved sexual assaults are seen to increase now-a-days, and alcohol-facilitated rape is the most common form of sexual violence against women. Alcohol’s psychological, cognitive and motor effects contribute to sexual assault. Drug-facilitated sexual assault (DFSA) is a sexual assault, rape or otherwise, carried out on a person after the person has become incapacitated due to being under the influence of any mind-altering substances such as having consumed or been intentionally administered alcohol or any date rape drug. This type of rape form is also known as predator rape. A large number of juveniles are getting involved in rapes of minors and display shocking brutality. On apprehending these culprits, they need to be mandatorily subjected to tests for drug consumption
Many parents are unaware of their child’s activities. They tend to blindly believe that their children will not go astray as all their material comforts are being fulfilled. Also, many parents are highly obsessed with their careers, office work and their social activities, that many of them lose track of their children’s activities. Children enjoy their unregulated and unmonitored life to the hilt and these get reflected in their academic performance, irregular life-styles and involvement in shady activities. Peer pressure, students’ family background, place of residence, curiosity, are all factors that influence drug abuse among students.
Another dimension to this sordid issue is that children of alcoholics feel that they are inferior to their classmates and other people, hence, they develop a poor self-image in which they closely resemble their alcoholic parents. Teenage children of alcoholics may develop phobias. Because crime and violence is associated with alcoholism; incest and battering are common in alcoholic families. Sociologists estimate that about 75 % of domestic violence cases involve a family member who is an alcoholic. Battered victims often blame themselves for what has happened. Because they feel so guilty, ashamed and helpless, they themselves may turn to drinking as the way to escape the pain.
Family members of a drug user are likely to experience feelings of abandonment, anxiety, fear, anger, concern, embarrassment, or guilt; they may even wish to ignore or cut ties with the person abusing substances. Some family members even may feel the need for legal protection from the person abusing substances. Those who abuse substances are likely to find themselves increasingly isolated from their families. This compels to prefer associating with others who abuse substances or participate in some other form of antisocial activity. These associates support and reinforce each other’s behaviour.
In some cases, the effects on families may continue for generations. Intergenerational effects of substance abuse and drugs can have a negative impact on role modelling, trust, and concepts of normative behaviour, which can damage the relationships between generations. For example, a child with a parent who abuses drugs may grow up to be an overprotective and controlling parent who does not allow his or her children enough autonomy.
Neighbours, friends, and co-workers also experience the effects of substance abuse because a person who abuses substances often is unreliable. Friends may be asked to help financially or in other ways. Co-workers may be forced to compensate for decreased productivity or carry a disproportionate share of the workload. As a consequence, they may resent the person abusing substances.
Alcohol and drug abuse are serious issues and families are often left to fend for themselves due to lack of government support and inadequate addiction treatment and rehabilitation services. According to the latest Government survey done in 2019 there are more than 3 million drug addicts in India. In Kerala alone, around 400 educational institutions are affected by drug abuse, with 74.12 per cent being schools. College professional institutions make up 20.89 per cent and ITI and Polytechnics 4.97 per cent. The World Health Organisation suggests that the numbers could be much higher, as it is impossible to estimate the addiction rate with any measure of accuracy due to inefficient census reporting.
Another area of concern pointed out by WHO is the woefully inadequate counselling centers and de-addiction centers in the country. Many schools and a few colleges have started appointing Student Counsellors to tackle the rising addiction among students. There is an urgent need to establish rehabilitation centers and counseling centers also in every district of the country.
The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) and the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) have suggested in their 80-page report, submitted to the Government in 2021 that exclusive de-addiction and rehabilitation facilities be set up for children in 272 vulnerable districts by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. In other districts, it is necessary to make separate facilities for de-addiction and rehabilitation of children in all the district level hospitals under existing norms.
Apart from the above, the government can explore the possibility of setting up a National Drug & Alcohol Campaigning Authority to spearhead a multi-sectoral campaign to prevent, control and mitigate the impact of alcohol and drug abuse in the country. This Authority should work with schools, workplaces, colleges, universities, technical institutions, state governments, NGOs, self-help groups as well as individuals interested in a society free from alcohol and drug abuse.
(The writer is former Director General, National Academy of Customs, Indirect Taxes & Narcotics and School of Multi-Disciplinary School of Economic Intelligence. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)