Festering concern: substance abuse during festivals

A study on substance use in children and adolescents in a community setting highlighted that it is associated with various psychological problems
Festering concern: substance abuse during festivals

Dr. Bornali Nath Dowerah

(Assistant Professor of English, M. D. K. G. College, Dibrugarh, email: bornali9.nd@gmail.com)

A study on substance use in children and adolescents in a community setting highlighted that it is associated with various psychological problems, including rage, aggression, fights, indiscretions, and even psychiatric illnesses such as depression, anxiety disorders, conduct disorders, ADHD, and bipolar affective disorder. Furthermore, research has shown a clear link between music, nightlife, and substance abuse at festivals. According to studies, the addictive substances commonly abused by young people include alcohol, cannabis, opioids, and solvent abuse (Tullu et al., 2018). This increased pressure and expectation to indulge in substance use during festivals is fuelled by factors such as peer influence, societal norms, and the misconception that drug and alcohol consumption enhances the festival experience (Chaves & Khenti, 2019). According to the 2019–20 Health and Family Welfare Statistics in India, 26.3% of women in Assam aged 15–49 consume alcohol. This is the highest proportion among all states and union territories in India. The national average for this age group is 1.2%. 44.8% of women in Assam in the same age group consume alcohol once a week. The percentage of men in Assam aged 15–54 who consume alcohol is 59.4%. The national average for this age group is 29.5% (Hindustan Times, October 28, 2020).

Festivals, traditionally seen as occasions for celebration, cultural expression, and community bonding, have witnessed a concerning rise in youth’s substance abuse. Such celebrations serve as a reprieve from the monotony of daily life, offering a moment of respite and joy. However, for an alarming number of young individuals, these festive occasions have become synonymous with substance abuse. The thrill of celebration is tainted by the allure of drugs and excessive alcohol consumption, marking a disturbing shift in the perception of festivals, which is often concealed behind the mask of festivity. Furthermore, the high rate of alcohol consumption among young women in Assam adds to the severity of the issue.

Several factors contribute to the prevalence of substance abuse among youth during festivals. Peer pressure is often a significant catalyst, as young people may feel compelled to conform to their peers’ behaviour. Festivals serve as an environment where they believe they can experiment with substances while blending in with the crowd. For some, festivals provide an escape from personal problems or emotional distress. The festive atmosphere may offer a temporary reprieve from issues that individuals are reluctant to confront, leading them to use substances as a coping mechanism. Moreover, the easy availability of drugs and alcohol during festivals exacerbates the issue. Vendors and suppliers often exploit the heightened demand during these events, making it easier for young festivalgoers to access substances. This results in multifaceted and detrimental circumstances like aggravating quarrels, molestations, petty crimes amidst crowds, physical assaults, eve-teasing, stealing, verbal abuses, and the like. Besides, such a situation jeopardizes the physical safety of those involved. Impaired judgement, coordination, and a false sense of invincibility associated with substance use can lead to accidents, injuries, and even fatalities. The prevalence of violence and criminal activities at festivals, often fueled by substance abuse, threatens public safety and can damage the reputation of these events. Rather than being seen as cultural celebrations, festivals become associated with unruly behaviour, menace, and chaos. The health risks associated with substance abuse during festivals range from dehydration and poisoning to addiction and psychological distress. Relationships are strained and often fractured as a result of this behaviour, causing isolation and estrangement from family and friends.

However, addressing the issue of youth substance abuse during festivals is an urgent societal imperative. A comprehensive approach is most required to encompass various strategies:

1. Awareness and Education: Raising awareness about the dangers of substance abuse is paramount. Educational programmes and campaigns should be initiated to inform youth about the risks associated with drug and alcohol use during festivals.

2. Security Measures: Event organisers, security personnel, and local authorities should collaborate to ensure the safety of festival attendees. This tarnishes the reputation of these events and can deter individuals from participating in the spirit of the festival. Measures to control the availability of substances and provide medical assistance for those in need can help minimise harm.

3. Community Involvement: Since community involvement is crucial, families and friends must engage in open, non-judgmental conversations about the consequences of substance abuse. Support systems should be established to aid those struggling with addiction. Peer pressure can be countered by fostering an environment where one can enjoy the festivities without feeling the need to indulge in harmful substances.

4. Policy and Regulation: Policymakers can play a significant role by implementing regulations that restrict the sale and distribution of substances during festivals, particularly to minors. Vigilance by the local police authorities needs to be equally followed by family and friends who have young members in their circle.

Youth’s substance abuse during festivals is a growing concern that calls for immediate attention. Combating this issue requires a concerted effort from all stakeholders, from raising awareness to enforcing regulations and fostering a culture of responsibility and well-being. Only then can the sanctity of festivals be preserved for generations to come. Therefore, it is crucial for policymakers, healthcare professionals, and community organisations to concur and develop effective prevention and intervention strategies that address the root causes of substance abuse among youth during festivals in Assam. These strategies, apart from comprehensive awareness campaigns and educational programmes targeted at young people attending festivals, constitute the implementation of harm reduction measures such as on-site multi-drug detection methods at specific spots and stations. Since it is not possible to eradicate substance abuse completely, encouraging responsible consumption can go a long way towards minimising harm. However, addressing the problem necessitates a combination of alertness, responsibility, and a collective effort to ensure the welfare and wellbeing of all festivalgoers.

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