Habits die hard. We are responsible for our own actions and their consequences.

When Hasmita was caught smoking pot in college, the counsellor asked, “Didn’t you know it is bad for you?” And he was right: ‘I didn’t know’ is no longer a valid excuse. With decades of awareness propaganda, both in the media and in campuses, behind us, no one can claim ignorance of substance abuse. And yet Hasmita and thousands like her take to substance abuse every year.

Everyone knows cigarette smoking is injurious to health. Ads, newspaper articles, television commercials scream the message. Even the cigarette packet carries the statutory warning. Yet millions of puffs are taken every day. Thousands of people — many of them college-goers — turn smokers every year. Could this be a conscious choice?

We seem to prefer the disaster course even in mundane everyday matters. Consider our eating habit. Don’t you prefer burgers, French fries, samosas, puffs, ice creams and other junk to freshly-cooked, sumptuous but simple meals? Why do we prefer the heavily carbonated orange drink to eating a whole orange? These choices were not born out of ignorance of good and bad. Then what makes us consciously choose the disaster course?

Very often it is the need to belong to the ‘cool’ set. You want to be seen eating what the smart set eats, wearing what they wear, and adopting the right kind of stance. For some, new habits are a means to expressing their defiance of hierarchies and norms. The urge to defy is a consequence of a rigid upbringing in hierarchy-ridden, society-fearing families, but when carried to the extreme, it might find self-destroying expressions.

To some people, doing the wrong thing begins as an exciting adventure. When Prateek first tried alcohol, he was excited and he felt that he was finally an adult. What could an occasional drink do? But in a short while he began smuggling bottles into classrooms and hostels. Soon there were days when he could barely lift his head and keep his eyes open during lectures.

People start with bravado and a false sense of being in control. But before the wink of an eye, the occasional fancy, the experiment and the adventure becomes a habit and they are slavishly hooked. The reasons for making such choices are not as important as their consequences. The consequences of substance abuse, consuming junk food and other lifestyle statements are too well known and well documented to need re-telling here. Briefly though, it is a trade off of short-term pleasures and excitement for long-term misery. Let’s not forget that no one, but no one at all, can share the painful consequences of our youthful mistakes. In the final analysis, we alone are responsible for our actions and their consequences.

So, if you can stand up for yourself at the crucial moment of decision-making, you might just save your future. Investing in a healthful future is better than investing in a dashing and daring present of dubious quality. It takes guts to stand up to peer pressure. It takes spirit to say ‘no’ to temptations. It takes determination to stand by your convictions of right and wrong. And if you summon the guts and spirit to keep to the safe, sensible and healthy course, you have not only saved your future, you have also added dimensions to your character that will stand you in good stead later.