Neeraj Shewade (37) had his first bidi when he was in class eight. By the time he left his school he became a multiple drug addict and could not get enough of it for the next ten years.
“I wanted to imitate what my seniors from the school and college were doing. While going to the school, when I was in class eight, I remember I had my first bidi. I was fully impressed by my seniors and how they smoke fearlessly. In order to avoid the smell, I started having Gutkha,” said Neeraj, Head of the Public Awareness Unit of Muktangan Rehabilitation Centre, Pune.
When Neeraj was 19, he was admitted for de addiction in Muktangan. But his addiction always got the better of him. “When I was admitted in Muktangan for a month, I was on complete detox. But the day when I was out of Muktangan, the first thing I did was smoking,” he added.
In 2004, when a 19-year-old Neeraj approached Muktangan he had already left his study and was regularly consuming multiple drugs. “It was not an easy battle for me. I never treated tobacco as a major addiction. When I went home after my first treatment, I continued smoking and consumption of other forms of tobacco. My first relapse was in 2006, when I again started taking drugs. I again approached Muktanagan in 2006. Then I started working for Muktanagan, but I did not quit my smoking,” he said.
It was one incident that forced him to finally quit smoking. “When I was volunteering for Muktangan, we had arranged an awareness programme for a school. After the session, I could not control. I went out and had a smoke. Students saw this and I felt so shameful about myself that I decided not have tobacco in any form after that,” he said. It is only since the last two and half years that he has stopped consuming tobacco in any form.
Increasing number youngsters are getting addicted to tobacco
People associated with de-addiction centre in Pune stress on the alarming trend of more young people getting addicted to tobacco consumption and decrease in the average age of tobacco consumption.
Mukta Puntambekar, Project Director of Muktangan De-Addiction Centre, said, “We are seeing the recent trend, more and more youngsters are getting addicted to tobacco. Even many minors are getting addicted to tobacco. Over the years, the average age of drug abusers is decreasing. In our centre, large number of youngsters and the middle-aged people get registered. Our entire staff is tobacco-free and majority of our staff were earlier admitted as patients in our centre. It is the follow-up of the patient which is very important.”
Muktangan is the first de-addiction centre in the country to get an ISO 9001-2000 certification. The centre was born as ‘Anand Ward’ in a single room of state-run Yerwada mental hospital in Pune in 1986. For the last 26 years, the centre has been treating addictions ranging from Alcoholism, substance abuse and even gambling.
Muktanagan gets 100 male patients and 15 female patients admitted each month, with a relapse rate of 30 per cent after the first admission. Counselling, medication and different therapies is the way through which tobacco addicted patients are treated here.
Manvendra Jogdev, counselling psychologist, Muktangan said, “Smoking many times becomes compulsive behaviour for many. In youngsters, it affects concentration and leads to irritation. Any form of tobacco is stimulant and therefore students want it to keep themselves awake while studying. But they do not understand that it is a short cut and it has many harmful effects.”