Doctors attribute it to easy availability of dope, peer pressure, or depression

Increasing number of people in Mangalore are taking to alcohol and substance abuse, and what worries the doctors is that women and teenagers are getting addicted.

The doctors were speaking to The Hindu on the sidelines of ‘ Yen-Mind1 — continuing medical education (CME) on alcohol and substance abuse disorders’ organised by the Department of Psychiatry, Yenepoya Medical College, in the city on Thursday.

Supriya Hegde, Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Kasturba Medical College Hospital (KMC), Mangalore, said, “We are seeing double the number of patients as against five years ago. I see 40 patients in a week of which 10 are in their teens. Of these, five are cases of substance abuse, ranging from smoking to multiple abuses including smoking, consuming cannabis, inhaling glue, solvents and drinking cough syrups.”

Of the patients she sees, 20 per cent are girls, who come with depression, have slashed their wrists or have suffered breakups. The reason is “a new-found sense of freedom”, to show their rebellious nature or that they are “on a par with the boys” or because some of them are insecure or want to attract attention. Many of them work part-time. She said, “Many are locals”.

Teen concern

Dr. Hegde said that in Mangalore, “Substance abuse among teenagers is growing, with smoking, trying out ganja… it’s easily available in paan shops and hostels.” Users form a well-knit network and no names are mentioned as they are scared of implications. The parents are unaware that their children are hooked to it as they use “a lot of masking behaviour”. They will not be home on time or they go on a trip to other cities with friends. Students are from medical and other professional colleges. The parents, when they get to know, are “in shock and denial. Some of them are very poor and very naïve,” she said.

John Mathai, Professor and HOD, Department of Psychiatry, Father Muller Medical College (FMMC), said, “Women become dependent fast due to pharmacological reasons”. It is because women metabolise alcohol in a different way than men. However, a majority (there are no specific numbers available) of them have secondary alcoholism, driven to it due to other underlying psychiatric illnesses such as depression and anxiety.

Dr. Mathai said, “Everyday, Father Muller admits six to seven patients (of 10), on an average, who have alcohol-dependent syndrome or alcohol-related psychiatric problems”. This is all year through.

P.V. Bhandary, Consultant Psychiatrist, A.V. Baliga Hospital, Udupi, said “Definitely, numbers are increasing”. But the increased number may not mean more women (for whom addiction begins late, in middle age) are getting alcohol-addicted. However, he is considering setting up a separate six-bed facility for women with alcohol problems so they can approach the de-addiction centre “without hesitation”.

He said, “It is difficult to say but definitely more people are approaching for help. Twenty per cent of our clients are under 25 years.” The reason is easy availability, lure of the media and advertisements with hidden messages.

V.V. Mohan Chandran, Professor and Head of Department, Department of Psychiatry, Yenepoya University, said, “We want to start a de-addiction unit on the campus. Per capita consumption of alcohol in Kerala is the highest and Dakshina Kannada is not far behind”.

He said studies by Yenepoya University show more than 20 per cent of patients in its psychiatric ward have alcohol-dependent syndrome. The reasons are higher availability, social acceptance of alcohol, and the belief that it can solve problems. But it leads to depression, psychosis and neurological problems.

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