There is a growing concern at the increase in number of people indulging in substance abuse and, at the same time, there is also an increase in the number of substances.

Last month, a 14-year-old son of daily wage earners from Othakadai was forcibly brought to an adolescent counsellor for treatment of unusual behaviour.

The boy, who dropped out of school on completion of eighth standard due to poverty, was working for daily wages in an industrial unit near Melur. The counsellor found out that the boy was addicted to inhaling a volatile solvent while travelling in bus and at workplace. The boy challenged him saying, “You inhale the solvent once and experience the bliss. You will give up your profession.” The de-addiction centre, where the boy was admitted, found it difficult to keep him off the solvent. However, his parents took him home after about a week with the promise that they would take care not to let him out. Two days later, he was reported dead.

Last week’s police crackdown on shops selling whitener, a solvent used to mask errors in writing, in Madurai district has come as an eye opener. Doctors and psychologists are worried about the growing addiction among adolescents to solvents. They buy cheaply available solvents -- which are available in several names as whitener, eraser and thinner --, liberally sprinkle it on their handkerchief and inhale it to get a “sensational feeling.”

“Kuraintha vilai, niraintha bothai” is how children whose parents do not fall in the high income bracket look at these mood-enhancing chemicals, says a psychologist. These chemical substances are sold across the counter at all stationery shops and there cannot be any suspicion when a child asks for an “eraser” by its brand name.

The profile of addiction has changed dramatically in Madurai in the last decade, says K. S. P. Janardhan Babu, Assistant Director (Programmes), M. S. Chellamuthu Trust and Research Foundation, which runs many mental health programmes in south Tamil Nadu. There is a growing concern at the increase in number of people indulging in substance abuse and, at the same time, there is also an increase in the number of substances.

Alcohol, tobacco and ganja are the traditional substances that induce addiction. In the last decade or so, the substances come in varied form. Of late, “poor man’s drugs” have become popular among adolescents. They include kerosene, petrol, certain cough syrups, whitener, eraser, nail polish and paints, says Mr. Babu. The list is not complete.

“Mobile phones and the Internet are the latest to join the list of addictives,” says Mr. Babu. The mental health counselling centres across the city get children, especially those in tenth and twelfth standards, for treatment of “mobile phone addiction.” There are girls, more from rural areas, who get addicted to the smell of nail polish. Whitener addiction was the subject of discussion at many places on International Day Against Drug Abuse.

Abuse of volatile solvents like the whitener will result in development of anti-social traits in a person, explains Mr. Babu. Apart from this, the abuse leads to respiratory and olfactory problems, memory loss, weight loss, sleep disturbances and poor academic performance. The new addiction brings in new friends and introduces the adolescent to newer addictions. Parents, teachers and law enforces should join hands to sustain the campaign against substance abuse. The family should support the young to keep a balance between their emotions and intellect. When emotion rules over the intellect, addiction enters, says Mr. Babu.

What parents should look for in children....

Frequent purchase of liquid erasers and whiteners.

Low academic performance.

Small blood clots in clothes.

Unusual time spent in toilet.

Chocolate wrappers under cots.

Weight loss.

Loss of appetite.

Sleep disturbance.

Black rings under the eyes.

More than usual consumption of coffee/tea.

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