Article Published in THE HINDUSTAN TIMES

Drugs – How, When and Why?

Navtej Sarna

What are perhaps more harmful than the drugs themselves are the conceptions, ideas and beliefs which sections of society harbour about them. Some of these make campus life synonymous with a journey into decadence. Others paint every student as a ‘pot-smoking hippie’.

It is essential that we dispel these beliefs based on hearsay and wild imagination. It is only then that we can see how much of the spectre is mere hallucination, the causes and nature of the blight, the reality unmingled with an anxious father’s imagination.

What exactly are the drugs which have caused such a furore during the last two decades? And what is meant by drug addiction?

There is a large variety of drugs, most of them known in our society since the ages. They are no mind-blowing concotions of western degenerates. Heroin and morphine are merely derivatives of opium, and, opium is no stranger to the East.

The most popular drugs are Cannabis group, derivatives of hemp. Charas and marijuana fall into this category and India is well-acquainted with them. Ganja has been smoked for centuries by sadhus on the banks of the ganges and bhang adds its own colour to Holi. Another category is that of the amphetamines, the well-known dexadrine, Benzedrine and the tranquilizers.

WHO’s definition of drug use has specified the following characteristics: “(1) an overpowering desire to continue taking the drug and to obtain it by any means (2) a tendency to increase the dose (3) a psychic and sometimes physical dependence on the effects of the drug.” Our two basic questions, therefore, stand answered.

It is imperative to clarify, at this stage, that the aim of this article is not to determine and specify the drug-using student population. The reasons for the lack of such specification are the practical problems involved in such a study. The habit of drug-taking is looked down upon and admission of drug-use is usually guarded. However, the Delhi School of Social Work has conducted a survey with 100 respondents who take drugs. This study provides interesting information about the socio-economic background of drug-users and brings to light other facts about this phenomena.

The use of drugs has always been held to be prevalent amongst students coming from upper class or high middle-class families. The study supports this supposition as can be seen from the following table:

Income Group (Rs) Number of students

Below 500 04
501-1000 22
1001-1500 12
1501-2000 18
2001-2500 10
2501-3000 12
3000 and above 22
Total 100

Nearly two-thirds of the respondents came from families with a monthly income of more than Rs. 1,500 and nearly one-fourth from families above the Rs 3,000 mark. Thus the economic background seems to bear a direct relationship to the habit of drug-use.

On the Delhi campus, the most commonly used drug is charas. Mandrax is an extremely popular sedative. The possible reasons may be its easy availability and low cost. One-fifth of the respondents had used LSD. They are the select few who are said to be ‘tripping on acid’. Somewhat surprising was the finding that the majority of drug-users were following academic courses in Economics, Commerce, Physics and English, courses which usually attract the better student. In fact, some students insist that drugs help them to concentrate better on their studies.

Be that as it may, let us now turn to the causes of this blight. How, when and why do students start taking drugs? What are the influences, the pressures and the reactions?

In the conducted survey, it was found that one-fourth of the respondents were acquainted with drugs at school and over 50 per cent had already taken drugs by the end of their first year at the University. In fact, that is the period when the student is most vulnerable to outer influences. He has just been released from a relatively regimented school life. His mind is full of campus tales and he yearns for new experiences.

The most common reason stated for starting on drugs is to be ‘in’ with friends and fashion. Other reasons, maladjustment, frustration and failure. Thirteen respondents admitted that they started on drugs for the sake of the ‘pleasant experience’.

And yet the first experience was not always pleasant. As many as 34 out of the 100 respondents reported unpleasant reactions. Continued use was the consequence of pressure from friends and fellow-smokers.

In fact, ‘friends’ seem to play an almost indispensable role in this social drama being enacted on the campus. For drug-use is essentially a group phenomena. A social climate is created and the feeling of guilt lessened. Sensations are reportedly heightened by the presence of others. These ‘friends’ are also the usual sources of supply. They are very often the pushers and the sellers, for the profits in the drug game are high.

But what are these ‘pleasant’ and ‘unpleasant’ experiences? What entices a man to leave this real and beautiful world and pass into a state of who-knows-what? The cannabis drugs mainly alleviate fatigue and soothe restlessness. The user becomes talkative and congenial. Auditory perceptions are sharpened, vision becomes brighter (or distorted) and the sex urge increases. In small doses, they increase appetite but their main effect is psychological depending on the personality of the user. Disconnected ideas arise in some people. In others, it arouses deep introspection, self-analysis and quietude. Yet others become highly excited and emotional.

LSD is known to have caused personality changes. The experiences of LSCD-users are usually deep and symbolic. They seem to see highly philosophical questions in common things. The damage, however, may be permanent.

Dependency on drugs is generally more of a psychic than physical nature and increases with the duration of use. Attempts to ‘kick’ the habit often cause distress and dejection.

As part of study on the drug-users, Rotter’s ISB test was administered to test their personality. It was found that 87 out of the 100 respondents were insecure, immature, dependant, frustrated, diffident, anxious and worried. Most of them were disappointed with family or social situations. Many suffered from extreme mother-fixations and adopted a negative attitude towards the father. They are an unhappy lot, living on the immediacy principle, seeking happiness from the momentary escape into the realms of another consciousness.

But there is more to a university than drug addiction. A few years ago, this problem was indeed assuming alarming proportions, but it seems to be petering out. One will still find an occasional room full of sweet smelling smoke and sprawling victims of an addictive mistress. But maturity is fast catching up and there are only a few die-hard addicts left to the university. The blight has lost its potency and the spectre, in the new morning’s light, does not seem so frightening.

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Students and Drug-use (1972) – Delhi School of Social Works

Reasons for the respondent Total number of respondents
Taking drugs in the first instance who gave this as a reason
Either alone or combination
With other reasons

1. Frustration and failure 17
2. Anxiety 10
3. Maladjustment 33
4. For pleasant experience 12
5. Overcome boredom 12
6. To be ‘in’ with friends and fashion 30
7. To concentrate on studies