Should We Stigmatize Female Drug Addicts ?

Posted: May 3, 2012

In the last thirty years, use of prohibited drugs has exploded into a worldwide plague. Permeating into nearly every cultural and social class; there  isn’t  a nation in the world that doesn’t struggle with drug abuse on some level.

Though it is one of the pressing issues, drug abuse among Indian women was not recognized until recently and it’s time to deal with it.

India is undergoing transition. Roles are changing, stress level are increasing with women entering the workforce, alterations in lifestyle are all creating new problems that India is not used to. Women addicts in India have perpetually been swept beneath the carpet. Drug abuse and alcoholism among women are seldom talked about in our culture since the traditional picture of women does not entertain ‘addiction’ of any kind. Reality is the socio-cultural changes have rapidly altered the traditional role of women, and though the drug abuse among women is being increasingly recognized these observable facts and its related problems are missing in the country’s official drug statistics.

This is partly due to the limited number of women drug users and the largely subordinate position of women users in the drug subculture. However, women are likely to suffer greater consequences than men due to drug abuse.

In our country, women addicts are considered an abnormality. Nobody wants to accept that our women with morals can actually abuse drugs. As far as women addicts are concerned their families always fear societal repercussions and their family names being desecrated if the problem comes out in open.

There is very little information about the amount of female drug abusers in India, and from what is known that many  of these drug abusers are sex workers, street peddlers and  undereducated. Women who have faced trauma like sexual abuse, violence in their young age, lead  to substance abuse. Women also catch up with drugs as they are left alone at home with no company and pulled in different directions by children and their housework. Not to forget, women in the corporate world, and so-called high society get into drugs  as well.

Research has stated that Alcohol is the most abused substance among women, where as Heroin is the preferred choice of a few. Cocaine and psychedelic drugs are used mostly by the affluent class.

Studies reveal that women in the age group of 21 -30 mostly abuse party drugs. Whereas women in the age group 25-40 are mainly housewives who get addicted to sedatives and prescription drugs and small percentage to alcohol. Women in the age group of  40 and above are erratically addicted to alcohol. The number of causative factors, behind it is lack of buoyancy, poor goal direction, lack of trust and satisfaction with self and others.

It’s a misconception that substance abuse afflicts only a certain category or class of women; drug abuse is a malady and no illness has class distinction.

Once reliant on substance the individual is governed by a compulsive behavior. The only thing of anxiety for them is that the next fix should be “available”.  And for that they can go to any limit or resort to any kind of action; for  women addicts probably the easiest way to get money for their addiction is to engage in paid sex or they might sell off all the jewelry, gifts and personal items, theft, lying to procure money from friends and family etc.

Deep down, all addicts I guess would want to give up and women are no different. No one respects the women, who are into drugs and loss of respect and money are not the only price they pay. The major loss is of relationships.

The women who are involved in drug abuse, are not bad, neither are they evil, but they are sick and need treatment. The perception among women who succumb to drugs is that “No one is going to be affected, or nothing is going to happen, even if they die “, but they don’t realize that they are not abusing substance, but their own self.

Once they understand that drugs only retard the growth, potential and happiness, they definitely would want to rinse out themselves by going to a rehab. Agreed, that the process is not easy, as the withdrawal symptoms like fever, cramps, tremors, may lead them to abandon the rehab program.

It is true that once the women start with drug or alcohol abuse, the problem starts rather quickly, but it’s equally true they go from experimenting to addiction to treatment in a shorter amount of time. What usually prevents women addicts from seeking help is that they are unaware whom to approach for help and secondly they are afraid of the downbeat effects of coming out in the open.

But should we stigmatize the women drug addicts? Should we discriminate?

Rather than hiding their behavior to avoid social stigma and shame to which women are more sensitive , it’s time to take practical help from  assertive training, family , marital or parenting counseling ,rehabilitation programs and address the underlying coping skills and situations which lead women to abuse substances.

We need to create awareness in the women; we need to accept the drastic approach. We need to accept the fact that women are vulnerable to drugs and need assistance and support and for that first, we need to incorporate a proper rehabilitation program for women, because program have excluded the gender aspect from its purview. We also need to improve the existing infrastructure of rehab centres and make them more women friendly.

The challenge as women is to learn to battle physical and emotional stress in a more healthy way. There is hope of freedom from addictions – its just the matter of taking that first step.

I am into a full time job of a homemaker now, and thoroughly enjoy the

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  1. Shazneen, I agree with what you say, but no drug addict- male or female, should be stigmatized.

    • I agree, no one should be stigmatized, its an illness and they need the support of the family as well as the society , so that they can overcome the problem.

  2. Malavika Sreekumar -

    Female drug users in India are a reality, despite the tendency of Indian society to sweep women’s problems under the carpet. A women with a problem is perceived as an aberration, someone to be ignored and isolated just because she is different from what is considered “normal.” The first way to target the problem is the humanisation of women. In India, women are either deified or villified. Most women are expected to conform to the requirements of the “goddess” category.I might add that the social rejection faced by female drug users in India is similar to that faced by minority groups such as lesbians and heterosexual unmarried/divorced/widowed women (all three groups are perfectly normal individuals who do not indulge in self-harm) and female sex workers (who may or may not indulge in self-harm).If they do not, they are rejected by their families (even their parents). and friends The first thing that society must realise is that women are human and can fall to prey to the very same things as men. If a woman takes the wrong path, she must be guided, gently steered in a loving manner and rehabilitated so that she too can lead a wholesome life and become an active contributor to society. If a woman is merely living an alternative lifestyle, she should in no way be condemned or stigmatised for that reason.

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