In this short discussion, we shall try and form an understanding of the relationship between poverty and substance abuse.
As the general trend suggests, why is it that substance abuse takes such prevalent extreme forms in the economically poor sections? Why is the seductive power of alcohol magnified for them? I believe, the roots of this phenomenon lie in the structure of authority in a poor family, in the context of the society around which we shall discuss in a while. Also, the nature of substances involved (contingent upon the low inputs invested in order to keep the prices low) are untreated and add to the range of effects they cause.
The structure of authority in a poor family is much more vivid and visible because of the concrete form it takes. The relations of patriarchy are unregulated by any external intervention, and the opportunities for emancipation in form of education, or employment, are also absent. This contributes to a stagnant social order where the only possible movement for the relations is an increment in the magnitude or strength.
The existing governmental regulations of substance abuse are generalised and try a blanket policy measure for a variety of substance abuse problems contingent upon the nature of population involved. This leads to a very different impacts experienced by the various sections. A case in study would be the ‘ban policy’ taken for alcohol. The impact of the policy falls first and in its most aggravated form on the poor sections.
The reason behind this is a dearth of alternative for people with chronic dependency. Also, the unregulated illegal alcohol consumption increases in these sections, hence exposing them to the risks involved.
The effect of substance abuse in poor sections of the society is bi-directional in the sense that it becomes both a symptom and a cause. It ends up inducing younger generations while incapacitating the current generation. Thus forming a vicious circle of trap with no exit.
Coming to the specific situation of India, as a country which is classified as both young and poor, substance abuse becomes a great hurdle not just for the individuals, but also for the country as a whole. The immense potential of human capital remains untapped. Hence, dealing with the issue becomes pertinent for India.
As for the steps that need to be taken, the focus of policy needs to shift from regulating the supply to discouraging the demand. This can be done by injecting job opportunities, and conducting sensitisation campaigns. As evident from our discussion, relations of patriarchy begin translating into further magnifying the impact of substance abuse in the poor sections of the society. Hence, it demands external intervention into the issue by creating opportunities for employment and education for women, alongwith creating incentives for its reception.
– Aditya Nayak [Team Badastoor]