DRUGS AND THE COLLEGE STUDENT: AN EMERGING NARRATIVE

A pervasive phenomenon that affects a majority of college campuses in India today is the problem of drug use in students. Recent studies have demonstrated a dangerous spike in the percentage of drug use amongst the Indian youth with drugs like marijuana, LSD, ketamine etc. being sold and consumed openly in college campuses.[1] The consumption of drugs may not only have adverse consequences on the mental and physical health of the user but may also be indicative of a deeper underlying problem or dilemma as a result of which, the user has turned to drug consumption. In this ultra-competitive day and age, young college going students are often faced with a multiplicity of stresses and pressures and in light of this being the prevailing atmosphere, it is expedient to examine the correlation between these external stresses and the use and consumption of drugs.

The problem of drug use is not a simple one. There are a number of questions that beg asking when analysing this problem. Why does someone resort to and sometimes become entirely dependent on the consumption of drugs? Is it a result of their immediate atmosphere or a deeper and more insidious factor? Is their consumption of drugs used as an escape or in search of a particular feeling or emotion that they may not have found in their otherwise daily life? Keeping these perspectives in mind we set out to formulate a deeper understanding of drugs and the Indian college student through this narrative inquiry.

Keeping in mind the delicate nature of the research, we decided to adopt a narrative inquiry, through personal interviews, and an empirical study of a small sample group, but nonetheless one that represented a variety of viewpoints and perspectives. We conducted a total of 15 interviews of people who were willing to come forward and share their experiences with drug use. We developed a questionnaire comprising of queries we thought were relevant in shedding light about the intricacies of drug use. The important questions which directed the interview process have been annexed below. These are the experiences of individuals in our immediate vicinity.

Through this interview process we saw the emergence of a group narrative, but one that was fragmented in terms of the attitudes and perspectives that we saw in people. In our sample size, there were some people who regularly partook in the consumption of drugs while there were others who had actively made it a point to stay away from drug use. 10 out of the 15 people we interviewed had at least at some point consumed some sort of drug. However, almost all of the drug use was limited to marijuana. Of the 10, 4 were habitual users of marijuana. 4 more indulged in its occasional use. When asked how they first came to encounter drugs, all of the interviewees unanimously said that it was through friends who had previously engaged in it. 6 out of the 10 had only tried drugs after coming to college.

A majority of the interviewees who had consumed drugs narrated their experience as unique and something which becomes difficult to describe. Most of the interviewees experienced a sense of calmness and a considerable amount of lethargy. 4 interviewees recounted experiences of intense paranoia, dread and uneasiness when we asked about their first experience. Amongst these interviewees, 2 had never tried any form of drugs, pursuant to their first experience.

When asked about the effects that the drugs have had on their productivity and other aspects of daily life, 5 of the 10 persons who had tried drugs denied any effect on productivity, while the other 5 described that their productivity was significantly hampered owing particularly to the lethargy associated with marijuana use. They felt that it took them significantly longer than usual to complete tasks, especially those that were intellectually challenging. They felt that the use of drugs had hindered them in their pursuits and achievements of their long-term academic and professional goals. Three of the users also felt that it had a significant adverse effect on their personal lives and relationships with friends. They found themselves being increasingly alienated from those in their social circle, who did not use drugs as frequently as them. There was one case of serious depression and alienation, which the interviewee believed was largely a result of his frequent use of marijuana. This interviewee detailed how, while he understood and could perceive the ill-effects that drug use was having on his daily life and his relationships with friends, he was unable to find another method to cope with the stresses of daily college life. He believed it was a vicious cycle wherein he sought comfort and solace from intense academic and social pressure in the use of marijuana, but the use itself made it harder for him to cope with this pressure owing to its adverse effects.

What was disheartening to learn was that 4 of the interviewees felt a significant and consistent pressure from their immediate peer group to partake in the consumption of drugs. They felt afraid at the prospect of losing their social circle and as a result felt the need to take drugs.

5 of the interviewees had never attempted the use of drugs. 2 said that they had at some point considered the prospect but had ultimately rejected the idea, while the others were staunch in their decisions to never consume any form of drugs or other potentially addictive substances. All of these people were afraid of the repercussion that drug use could have on their lives including disappointing their parents, adverse effects on their academic productivity, reduced levels of motivation, disciplinary action from the college authorities or otherwise.

2 interviewees were morally against the idea of consumption of drugs, as they come from conservative backgrounds where they were raised to believe that the consumption of drugs was not in conformity with their idea of morality and good conduct. 3 others primarily rejected the use of drugs owing to the consequences that it may have on their health. They all believed that any use of drugs, be it marijuana or hard drugs, would inevitably have terrible consequences on both their bodily health and mental well-being.

A pervasive concern that was common amongst these 5 participants, was that, once they began or attempted drug use, they might lose control, leading to addiction, or the fact that they may not understand or know where to draw the line. They narrated that they had heard of instances where drug use initially began as seemingly harmless experimentation, but then led to serious instances of addiction and dependency. They were not prepared to risk such an event happening and believed that the repercussions by far outweighed any brief sense of pleasure or calmness that they may experience during the consumption of the drug itself. Three of them vociferously reiterated that they would not at any point in the future even consider the idea of consuming drugs.

We began this enquiry with the understanding that there is a massive and troubling surge in drug consumption in college campuses across the country. Our enquiry demonstrated that this trend has seeped into our own campus – to an almost disturbing proportion. Most respondents polled had consumed drugs at some point of their lives, and a large number amongst these had only done so after joining college.

While respondents had reported vastly disparate experiences while discussing how drugs affected them, a few strands emerge prominently. Most respondents who partook in the consumption of drugs consistently, including all habitual users polled, reported that drugs had affected their lives considerably. Drugs, particularly marijuana, almost uniformly demonstrated adverse effects on the lives of users. Respondents found their social lives threatened, and reported considerably lowered productivity. Interestingly, however, the respondents continued to indulge in drug use. This exploitative pattern – where persons would consistently abuse drugs despite themselves perceiving their harms – in our opinion reveals a pattern of dependency that is truly disconcerting.

Our suspicions, in this regard, were confirmed by how respondents viewed their own drug usage. Many respondents confirmed that their use was borne out of a need to escape from the drudgeries of daily college life. For at least one respondent, detailed above, this took on a significantly abusive aspect, where he would rely on drugs to move away from the depression that, in a vicious cycle, drugs themselves caused. We believe that this points to the possibility that the drug problem isn’t one of deviant proclivities amongst individual users – or at least not entirely so. Rather, these patterns of usage reveal deeper systematic problems, where users turn to drugs to fulfill deeper inadequacies in their lives. This was corroborated in the fact that even those that stayed away from drugs saw, as a prominent reason in their abstinence, the fact that users would often become addicted despite not initially intending for the same, owing to how drugs temporarily appeared to parlay difficulties they were otherwise facing in their lives.

One of the more interesting aspects of the problem that our study highlighted was that most people, both those that eventually took to drugs and those who did not, did not initially intend to do so. Most people initially appeared reluctant to partake in the activity. While some continued with this reluctance for various reasons, many others were sucked into the practice in a manner that can only be described as inadvertent. A vast number of respondents seemed to initially take to drugs only because of peer pressure, and the fear of losing their standing in their social groups if they attempted to stay away from the activity.

Beyond the banal assertion that drug usage poses an alarming problem, therefore, our main insights may be summarized as follows. First, most people, including those that eventually do take to drugs, do not initially intend to. Drug consumption is therefore a cultural problem, with the exalted status that drug-consumption seems to take in college social lives coercing people into engaging in the same. Second, most drug users themselves admit to the fact that their lives are significantly hampered by drug-use. The fact that they continue regardless demonstrates that the problem is one of dependency – and drug users find it difficult to extricate themselves from their usage. Third, drug use is often motivated, particularly amongst regular users, by a need to fill in for inadequacies in users’ lives. Users do not indulge in drugs for the pleasure of usage in itself, but in how they deliver them from other stresses of life.

In light of our observations, we conclude that an effective counter to the menace of drug usage cannot be symptomatic, but must address the roots of the problem. Since drug users seem helpless in addressing their own addictions, penalizing drug use can only lead to their further stigmatization, while doing little to deter drug use. In fact, people suffering from dependency would, in light of such a penal approach, choose to keep their problems hidden, only serving to exacerbate the same.

We suggest two responses instead. First, there is an urgent need to counter the cultural position that drugs enjoy. Once drug usage is no longer seen as a ticket to social ascendancy, people shall be far more unlikely to take to the practice in the first place. This can perhaps be achieved through awareness or advocacy programs. Second, one needs to counter the psychological ills that lead people to return to drugs. This can perhaps be achieved through providing effective counseling and psychological assistant options. Once there appear to be alternative and safe avenues where users can turn to address their issues without fear, there shall be a considerable downfall in drug dependency.

[1]Colleges, schools work to rid campuses of drug abuse | Latest News & Updates at Daily News & Analysis. [online] Available at:http://www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/report-colleges-schools-work-to-rid-campuses-of-drug-abuse-2056364 %5BAccessed 27 Sep. 2015]; John, E. (2015). City students turn drug peddlers on campuses – The Times of India. [online] The Times of India. Available at:http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/City-students-turn-drug-peddlers-on-campuses/articleshow/18159624.cms %5BAccessed 27 Sep. 2015].

(This blog post is a college assignment, not a regular post from me)

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3 thoughts on “DRUGS AND THE COLLEGE STUDENT: AN EMERGING NARRATIVE

  1. A study by NIDA has shown that while making a decision youngsters tend to only think about the rewards and not the risks. The desire to impress your friends overrides the fear of taking risks. To reduce the number of youngsters who get sucked in and fall to such peer pressure they need to be made aware. This can be done via drug education campaigns and programs and school-based drug education.

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  2. When a person enter a university, he is for the first time out of the umbrella of the parents, he is among people who share almost equal level of maturity as he. At such a point it is not very hard to imagine that a student may fall into such activities may be due to peer pressure, stress or mere choice. It is a time when the person grows as individual, the process itself is very hard. It is a time when he experience freedom, for him all paths seems open to him. He individually exercise his choice for the first time. I think it is parents, guardian who should from the very early stage make sure that when his or her child might be standing at such cross-way of choices he or she should make a right decision
    .

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  3. This narrative, according to me, hasn’t included the minority group that believes marijuana use to be beneficial. I don’t think mild drugs are harmful when used moderately; studies have consistently shown that marijuana and psychedelic mushrooms might actually have positive effects, and these drugs continue to be perceived as harmful without any attempt to actually understand its effects. The perception of marijuana (especially) and its legal status speak of a history of race and violence and a white distrust of “ethnic” habits. That said, this was a great and enjoyablenarrative in terms of conveying how drugs are an issue that people are very divided about.

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