‘Only through compassion, can we get to the root of addiction’

On April 15th, 2017 Sajida Foundation has taken the initiative to organize a Health and Wellness Fair at the BracCenter in partnership with Purnava Limited to commemorate World Health Day. The theme for this year is ‘Depression: Let’s Talk’. This fair will include interactive sessions with mental health professionals as they engage with the general public on topics that pertain to them.


One of the sessions is on ‘Positive Living, Family Counseling and Substance Misuse’ by Dr AshiqueSelim, Adult and addiction psychiatrist and a former Commonwealth Youth Ambassador. Selim shared with Namira Hossain about the drug addiction and depression problem in Bangladesh.


What made you take up drug counselling as a profession?


Primarily, I am an addiction psychiatrist and also a general psychiatrist, which is different from drug counselling. Part of my work includes counselling drug addicts. The reason I took it up is because of my own life experiences. Many of my peers had been affected by drugs, so becoming a psychiatrist was the best way I could help. I tried to help them when I was young as well, but I couldn’t. There is a huge difference between then and now because addictions constantly evolve, hence the people involved need to evolve. Not only have the drugs changed, but so has the social acceptance, availability, methods of usage as well as the harmful effects.


How much of a drug problem exists in Bangladesh compared to other countries? What are the differences?


I find that in our strata of society, drug usage is more prevalent than similar stratas in other countries where I have lived. I think (and I don’t have any data) some of the reasons are the availability and easy access to drugs here. Also the way drug usage is viewed has an effect. For example, one of the reason adolescents engage in drug use is for exploration and experimentation. People who engage in this course, will stop on their own. However, our society tends to overreact. The act of intervening here can lead to bigger problems, such as if a young person is put into a rehab for short-term drug use – they lose contact with their friends etc.


What is your opinion on rehabs, especially in the context of Bangladesh?


There is a place for rehabs in the treatment of addictions. In-patient rehabilitation isnot the only answer to address drug abuse. In Bangladesh, there are ‘rehab centres’ – in which there is little or no ‘rehabilitation’. These are detox centres where the main reason people stay off drugs is confinement. In Dhaka alone, there are 40 registered rehabs but actually there are over a hundred. The range of services they provide under the guise of rehabilitation is phenomenal – in terms of price range as well as quality.


In your opinion, do you think men and women have different reasons for turning to drugs?


I tend not to focus on the reasons for doing drugs – a person may not have a ‘reason’. I view it as a behaviour, one which is conducted without purpose. Reasons are rationalisations. Men and women have different experiences of usage as well as treatment. We live in a conservative society, access to drugs maybe more difficult for girls. More of an effort is required for them to gain access to drugs and use them. There is also taboo and stigma associated with accessing treatment – so they may leave it until it’s too late.

Depression Lets talk

Let’s talk about your workshop on World Health Day. Who is it geared towards?


The workshop will be on drugs and addictions and the means to address the problems associated with them. I am gearing it towards anyone who wants to know more about this topic, or if they feel helpless about their friends or family being affected by addictions and are looking for answers. Maybe it will be the sister of an addict who comes to the fair to participate in the yoga session and she hears of my session and thinks about the person in her family affected by drugs. She will have questions on her mind such as, whether the drug use is a problem, and how she would know and about what to do about it. This is not my first workshop in the sense that before I went to the UK to do psychiatry training, I volunteered as a Commonwealth Youth Ambassador for Positive Living. During this time, I did various activities to increase awareness around drugs in English and Bengali medium schools. I also did larger shows using NAUR (Bangladesh’s first firespinning group) with the intention of spreading awareness as a positive role model for young people to choose healthier activities.


What do recovering addicts need to stay off drugs – in terms of activities, as well as support?


A person’s recovery from addictions is very individual. In general, an addict needs compassion. Only through compassion, can we get to the root of addiction. The support from friends and family is immense – and they need to find a balance between letting the addict do whatever they want as well as to support them. A person who has used drugs for a prolonged period of time gets isolated from mainstream society. They find it difficult to reintegrate and find the idea daunting because of the false belief that they will not be accepted. They basically need access to training, studies and employment. They also need access to healthy living – physical activity, exercise and a healthy diet.


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