Perils of normalcy

Muhammad Ibrahim Ibne Towhid reveals how and why the number of ‘high functioning addicts’ are increasing in the country and the solutions to such addiction

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Upon returning to Dhaka after completing his higher education abroad, Danish Chakmal joined the operations team of a steel manufacturing company in Chittagong two years back. One of the directors of the company was his friend and was around his age.

Chakmal was a social drinker but was never introduced to any drugs. With provocation from his director friend, they began taking drugs like cocaine, phensedyl and heroine.

Although Chakmal used to do drugs once a week in the beginning, he is now a regular drug pusher. He gets a six figure salary and bearing the cost is not a burden for him. He works for straight eight hours and is fully operational during the work hours.

His affluent family also lives in Dhaka and visits him from time to time. At the moment he does not think that the high dose of drugs is a problem for him or that it can seriously affect his health or lifestyle.

Regardless of the extent, addiction is a problematic force in the lives of the addicted and their social networks. In this regard, Eric Patterson, MSCP, NCC, LPC, a professional counselor who has been working for over a decade to help children, adolescents, and adults in western Pennsylvania reach their goals and improve their well-being says, ‘Some will excuse or minimise their own behaviour or the behaviour of others by stating that the problem is not that serious because they are still able to perform their daily duties, e.g., go to work.’ This is where the term ‘high-functioning addict’ comes from as it refers to someone still performing at sufficient level while addicted to one or more drugs.

Alike other countries of the world, Bangladesh also faces the problems of drug and addiction. In the annual report of the Department of Narcotics Control of the country, the statistics and drug abuse scenario does not include the number of male addicts in the country. It is difficult to know the number of addicts because there is no database as all addicts do not reveal themselves or list themselves anywhere. However, most consultants and doctors dealing with mental health admit that the number of cases related to ‘high functioning addicts’ is on the rise.

Young businessman is snorting cocaine with a rolled up banknote

 ‘Some will excuse or minimise their own behaviour or the behaviour of others by stating that the problem is not that serious because they are still able to perform their daily duties, e.g., go to work”- Eric Patterson, a professional counselor from Western Pennsylvania, USA.

The Cabin Dhaka, a franchise of the international chain, has been operating in the country since last year as a specialised outpatient addiction treatment rehab centre treating substance addictions (alcohol and drugs) as well as process addictions (sex, internet, gambling).

The treatment method is an integrated approach to psychotherapy. The professionals here are experts and follow Cognative Behavioral Therapy (CBT), 12 step model based on CBT both for substance dependency and process addictions, mindfulness and other approaches for all level of their clients.

Anyone with problems related to mental health, depression, anxiety or addiction can contact them for help. The initial phone consultation and assessment session is free of charge, while fixed charges are taken for successive individual or group psychotherapy.

Group counselling session (1)

Nabila Tarannum Khan, the chief consultant clinical psychologist at Cabin Dhaka, says, ‘We are noting a significant increase in the number of high functioning addicts in the country especially in the capital. These professionals are mostly industrialists, top managers of renowned companies, businessmen or expatriates.’

‘Addiction has two components, one is dependence and the other is tolerance,’ she adds. Multitasking people and high achievers tend to be able to cope with work pressure, drugs and alcohol, she explains. ‘However, they remain in denial until they face severe physical or mental problems,’ she says.

‘Most of our foreign clients are victims of culture shock and choose addiction as a way out as they live far away from their families,’ Khan adds.

Cabin Dhaka consults 8-12 clients per month whose age group is between 35-50 years. Mental health is not only affected by addiction but also disturbed by personal problems, suicidal attempts, shock, not able to maintaining work-life balance and so on.

Mita Mondil, another clinical psychology at Cabin Dhaka, says, ‘We have a 96 per cent programme completion rate here. For every client, we use individually tailored strategy. Some clients need rehabilitation but deny this due to social stigma. Bangladeshi patients tend not to go for group sessions because of fear of losing confidentiality. However, people are slowly coming for group sessions as they learn the benefits of sharing and that people don’t judge so easily. The standard treatment tenure is three to six months and afterwards there are follow up sessions according to the needs of the clients.’

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‘Multitasking people and high achievers tend to be able to cope with work pressure, drugs and alcohol. However, they remain in denial until they face severe physical or mental problems’- Nabila Tarannum Khan, clinical psychologist and chief consultant at Cabin Dhaka

Sohel is a businessman from Bangladesh. Out of curiosity and with the purpose of just giving it a try, he began to take drugs. However, he became an addict and drugs became a part of his daily routine in few weeks. He was soon missing office appointments and behaved rudely with family members.

Sohel was treated for his addiction of Methamphetamine. On the day of the interview with New Age Xtra, he says, ‘Today I am 97 days clean. The high doses started affecting my health, lifestyle, family and business one after the other. One day I opened up to my family. I went to The Cabin Chiang Mai and now I am continuing my follow up sessions in Dhaka. This was my first attempt at rehab. I was worried in the beginning but as I shared all about me during the group sessions, I felt a relief inside of me.’

Many people slip even in the process of rehabilitation, but as one discovers more about oneself, one can become free from addiction. Sohel says, ‘My mind took me on a new journey. Now I concentrate on the little joys of my life and want to feel better. Today I was not feeling well to go to office. I went to shopping and then I realised how good I felt. The rehabilitation has changed my life, it brought a routine to my diet and to my lifestyle. During these 97 days, I realised that I have a lot to know about myself. This is just a start, every day I pass I feel better that I am sober.’

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The term high functioning addict is not yet popular within the country but there are many individuals who maintain a tough work schedule and need rehabilitation because they are addicts. Anyone who is faced with problems of mental health, depression of addiction can reach out to organisations like Cabin Dhaka.

‘High functioning addicts’ is still a relatively new area for most rehabilitation and mental health centres, say experts. ‘Besides promotional campaigns to raise public awareness by the authorities, the family and friends of addicts have very important roles to play in identifying and eventually bringing high functioning addicts out of their addiction,’ says a psychologist to New Age Xtra.