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Social Consequences of Drug Abuse in South Asia

Urmil Sharma

Sharma, Urmil Brockville Mental Health Centre, Canada

Background: Abuse of alcohol and drugs is a worldwide problem. In countries of the South Asian region including Bangladesh, Butan, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, the drugs commonly abused are heroin, cannabis, opium, and pharmaceutical preparations. Abuse of alcohol and tobacco in combinations with other drugs also is seen in these countries. Abuse of drugs not only poses a threat to the individual’s health but consequently gives rise to socioeconomic problems. Alcohol and drug abuse cause stress in a family and drain national resources. This paper is based on available research data and the author’s research work in the field. The paper discusses social consequences of drug abuse in the South Asian region, covering social issues with respect to family, society, gender, young people, work, crime, violence, and cost. The discussion has implications for developing treatment and prevention strategies.

Results: Families suffer due to cultural and social factors of drug behavior, including their own understanding of the disease process and the addict’s behavior due to drug abuse, draining of family resources, shrinking from responsibilities, sickness and death faced as a consequence of drug abuse, extramarital relations, distortion of interpersonal family relationships, and violence. Family reaction to drug addiction includes denial, blaming, suppressed anger, depression, bargaining, preoccupation, change of personality, and codependency. Family and friends respond differently. In a study done in India, a sizable majority (58%) of family members felt bad; nearly two-fifths expressed their annoyance and anger; about one-fifth (22%) advised the addict to give up drugs and expressed negative and nonsupportive attitudes such as hopelessness and being ashamed of the addict’s act; indifference and desertion by the spouse also were expressed by a smaller percentage of family members. Similarly, 42 percent of friends showed concern, 39 percent broke a friendship, and the rest showed no specific reaction. The community also showed resistance.

extramarital relations, distortion of interpersonal family relationships, and violence. Family reaction to drug addiction includes denial, blaming, suppressed anger, depression, bargaining, preoccupation, change of personality, and codependency. Family and friends respond differently. In a study done in India, a sizable majority (58%) of family members felt bad; nearly two-fifths expressed their annoyance and anger; about one-fifth (22%) advised the addict to give up drugs and expressed negative and nonsupportive attitudes such as hopelessness and being ashamed of the addict’s act; indifference and desertion by the spouse also were expressed by a smaller percentage of family members. Similarly, 42 percent of friends showed concern, 39 percent broke a friendship, and the rest showed no specific reaction. The community also showed resistance.

Studies show that drug abuse leads to poverty and family breakdown. According to a survey in India, weekly expenditure on drugs amounted to $13 and total expenditure ranged between US $250–$25,000. In families disrupted by drug abuse, poverty is often transmitted from parents to children.

In fourteen percent of families, the drug-dependent family member died due to drug dependence.

Women abusers in South Asian countries are on an increase, ranging up to 17 percent of lifetime abusers. Reports show a substantial percentage of women drug addicts are divorced, separated, and widowed (India and Sri Lanka). Women abusers are more marginalized from society than men and suffer greatly when a member of the family abuses drugs. Treatment facilities for women are limited, stigmatizing, and not suited to their needs. A survey also revealed that 36 percent of addicts manifested unwanted behavior and that more than 80 percent of addicts indulged in domestic violence.

Abuse of drugs below age 7 has been reported as well as initiation of alcohol and tobacco as early as age 7–10 and of heroin and cannabis at age 18–20. Evidence also supports the association of drugs and crime. Crimes include drug peddling, petty crimes, and road accidents committed under the influence of alcohol. A survey in India reported that two-fifths of addicts came in conflict with the law. Drug addiction had an impact on work; almost three-fourths of addicts were unable to work, and students could not attend to their studies. Drug addiction was the reason for change of job in nearly half of workers changing jobs. As regards the employers’ response, three-fourths sympathized and advised; jobs of 11 percent of abusers were terminated; and 8 percent of employers accepted the drug abuse habit of the employee. The societal cost of drug abuse is enormous and multifaceted.

Conclusion: Research and surveys delineating the social-economic consequences of drug abuse are limited. Such consequences not only impact drug abusers’ lives but equally affect their families and the community at large. Consideration of such aspects, therefore, becomes imperative in the treatment and prevention of addiction.

Abstract Year: 
2009
Abstract Region: 
North America
Abstract Country: 
Canada
Abstract Category: 
Epidemiology