In this episode of Mano Churchae, RJ Padma Priya speaks with Dr. Madhumita, a psychiatrist from Victoria Hospital, about the less-understood effects that tobacco addiction can have on a person’s mental health.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that tobacco-related fatalities every year clock around a whopping 50 lakh, of which India records a tragic per day statistic of 2,500 deaths. This means that nicotine/tobacco addicts experience a higher fatality risk from their situation than from suicide, an HIV+ status, accidents and environmental disasters.
The physical effects of smoking, chewing and inhaling tobacco have long been discussed and studied, but the adverse effects on mental health remain under-explored. Prolonged tobacco use is understood to cause premature ageing, damage to the skin, eyes and teeth, heart problems, heightened chances of stroke, miscarriages, mental disability in foetuses, liver problems, weight fluctuations, lower sperm count, hypertension, diabetes, and osteoporosis, among other ailments.
The fact of addiction is that the concerned substance provides the user with a deep, sometimes reality-altering, sense of pleasure, and as the user sinks deeper into its grip, the tougher it becomes to climb out.
Addiction typically appears as the insuppressible need to consume a substance at specific times of the day. This need, when unfulfilled, can bubble up as anger, lack of focus, and/or emotional anguish. Smokers and other tobacco users tend to develop social behaviours that help feed the addiction; for eg., they begin to frequent places where smoking is allowed and avoid those that don’t. Their social circle, too, can end up comprising mostly of people who share the addiction. These factors combine to make the decision to give up or find help in giving up very difficult. The condition also leads to normalisation, like the belief some people have that cigarettes are more harmful than inhaled or chewed tobacco, which is untrue.
Addiction is a complex condition to break down. A lot of social, chemical, and even genetic factors have been understood to influence its severity. Dr. Madhumita talks about how the earlier one starts, the more intense the chances are of addiction developing. Mixing tobacco use with alcohol and drugs can further impair the mental health of the user.
So, what is the solution we need? We all need to understand that smoking and other uses of tobacco affects not just the user but everyone in close proximity to that person. Like most things, the first step towards a solution comes with a change in thought. Acknowledgment of addiction is a tough start to make, so counseling can help. Needless to say, the addict needs to show proactive interest in the process and needs to understand that there is quick goodbye to addiction. Medical professionals usually prescribe nicotine tablets to recovering addicts and link them to support groups of other recovering persons. Involving a supportive network of family and friends is critical as well.
A minuscule percentage of tobacco users are able to drop addiction on their own; most others need supervised recovery. But, there are no short cuts on this long route.
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Written by Shruti Sharada.