Dr. Samir Parikh is a consultant psychiatrist and the Director of Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences Fortis Healthcare, New Delhi, India.
Dr. Samir Parikh is one of the most well-known psychiatrists in India with a prominent presence in the media with various columns in newspapers, interviews on television channels and websites. He has played a key role in enhancing the image of mental health in the country and his views are widely disseminated
It is alarming to note the rate of increasing prevalence of substance use today, and yes, smoking cigarettes doe also fit in the category of substance use! Especially for the youth, the rates of smoking have been on a high rise over the past decade. Alcohol and drug addiction is a common challenge among adolescents that has. And given the far reaching negative impacts on their physical, emotional and psychological development, it is saddening to observe such an increase and attraction towards tobacco use, despite of being aware of its well-known hazards. It could almost seem to be inexplicable to comprehend this fact, given the warning that is mentioned on the packs of cigarettes themselves. Furthermore, smoking has been known to be associated with high levels of risks for not just the smokers, but for those around them as well, which is known as passive smoking.
Adolescents have been found to be the most vulnerable population to initiate tobacco use (Chadda & Sengupta, 2003),. Moreover, according to a recent study in India, easy availability and relief from tension were the most frequent reasons reported for the continuation of substance use, with media being stated as the most frequent source of information (Tsering et al, 2010). Therefore, yes, this is indeed a growing concern which needs to be recognized as well as addressed.
Why is it a Concern?
Peers. First and foremost, it is the role of peer pressure, which has long since been identified as one of the key factors contributing towards substance use, especially amongst the teenagers and adolescents. Adolescence, which has been earmarked as a period of rapid growth and development, is developmentally a phase in which the adolescents tend to attach almost a maximal significance to their peer groups, almost to the neglect of all other social agencies. As a result, any pressure or need to ‘fit in’ with the social groups, along with an association of smoking behavior to be considered as a characteristic of ‘being cool’, coupled with low levels of self esteem could become a ready combination for an adolescent to become prey to the pressure of indulging in smoking behavior.
Experimental Attitude. Being a critical period of development, adolescents are given to be experimental with many risk taking behaviors including smoking. At the same time, there are quite a few myths surrounding smoking, such as that it helps mitigate anxiety, which encourages youngsters to be attracted to the same. However, it is important for them to be educated and informed that; on the contrary, nicotine in fact increases the individual’s predisposition towards anxiety over the long run.
Media. The significant influence of the media cannot be reiterated enough, especially so for the young minds. It is not uncommon for advertising campaigns to be targeting the adolescents and teenage section of the population, as the young minds are more vulnerable to observing and learning from their surroundings. Further, often the need to be attracted to smoking could also stem from an underlying psychological factor or personality predisposition which increases vulnerability towards such behaviours. Such an addictive behaviour could actually begin to fulfill a valuable need in the eyes of the use, which could be anything from mood elevation, to pain relief, either physical or emotional.
What Can be Done?
Awareness and Education. It is essential firstly for parents and family members to be educated with adequate and complete information regarding the nature of smoking. It’s common for the teenager to be blamed for falling prey to such a habit due to a lack of will power. On the contrary, it is necessary to be able to bust such myths and to ensure that drug addiction be understood as a disease, which can be treated.
Media Literacy. Media literacy is broadly the ability to critically understand the messages the media shows us, in order for us to use it effectively to make the right decisions. It encourages the youngsters to think about how the media co-constructs reality, whom it benefits and how, how it captivates us and how to break the stereotypes propagated therein. Considering the significant role played by the media, any form of awareness and education stands incomplete without the adolescents being educated about media literacy, so they learn to discern the sources and the impact of various media portrayals which may be encouraging smoking.
Encourage Help Seeking Behaviour. It is important to remember that all substance use disorders, including smoking, are medical conditions, requiring adequate professional interventions, including a combination of medications and psychotherapy. Professional help is irreplaceable, and addictive behaviours do not change abruptly, but through a series of stages.