April 27, 2008
It was 9:15 p.m. and Aarti's TV screen exploded with the scenes from her favourite serial Kasam Se. She had been waiting for this episode for almost 24 hours. Bani is on her way to meet her beau Jai Walia after years of separation.
Enter villain—Sumesh (Aarti's husband). He walks in and demands dinner. All hell broke loose. Though the good ol' hubby knew his wife loved tele serials, what he didn't know was that she had become an addict of Ekta Kapoor's ‘K serials'.
“My four-year-old marriage was on the verge of break-up that night. When I asked Aarti for dinner, she became aggressive and started crying like mad as if somebody had done something wrong to her,” says Sumesh, who is based in Delhi. He took Aarti to a psychiatrist the next day, who confirmed her addiction and put her on a de-addiction therapy. But it is still difficult for Sumesh to come to terms with the fact that given a choice, his wife will choose Jai Walia over him!
For 25 years, 61-year-old Keshav Sharma, from Delhi, had not worn anything other than white shirts and trousers. When his wife died last year, and his daughter-in-law refused to take the ‘extra burden' of maintaining his white clothes, he became quarrelsome and even tried to physically abuse his son and daughter-in-law. His doctor says that Keshav is an addict, not of alcohol or tobacco, but of white clothes!
Tanvi, 15, cannot do without ajinomoto (Japanese name for monosodium glutamate) in her food. Whatever she eats, be it noodles, soup or potato curry, she has to have ajinomoto in it. Knowing that excess salt can have adverse effects, her mother tried to restrict her salt intake by not buying it. But she failed in her attempt as Tanvi began stealing money and buying it on her way back from school. It was only when her elder sister saw the packet in Tanvi's school bag, that her parents took her to a psychiatrist in Patna. Her condition is termed as Chinese restaurant syndrome, in which a person gets addicted to ajinomoto.
Aloha, to the age of tech junkies, serial freaks and self-confessed chocoholics. Doctors call Aarti's, Keshav's and Tanvi's behaviour as ‘modern-day' addictions, some of which are simply bizarre. “These days people are getting addicted to unusual and unheard of things. It can be anything—alcohol, tobacco, chocolates, foods, colours, television serials and videogames,” says Dr Jitendra Nagpal, psychiatrist at the Vidhya Sagar Institute of Mental Health and Neurological Sciences, Delhi.
Talking of outlandish addictions, Rachna and Rajat's life could prove a fine example. The Delhi-based professionals had very little time to interact with each other. So, they adopted the ‘quality time' concept to spend more time in each other's company.
It worked well, till they bought a BlackBerry. Rajat got so hooked to it that he spent more time with his blackberry than Rachna. After two months of sleepless nights, Rachna filed for divorce. “It was hard to believe that a BlackBerry could be the cause for divorce. But when Rajat found it difficult to get over his obsession with the BlackBerry, we consulted a psychologist, who told us about the addiction,” says the couple's friend.
Says Nagpal: “Incidence of addiction to the internet and electronic devices is increasing by the day. We get many cases every day, of these new kinds of addictions. Internet addiction is common with the executive class and gaming addictions are rising among school children.”
When Kris started handling the computer at a tender age, his parents were proud. They started seeing big dreams for him. Soon, Kris spent more time on the computer than with his friends or the family. His parents grew worried and tried restricting him, but he ended up screaming at them. His studies suffered and he could not even complete Class 10. His parents tried to send him to different hands-on courses and jobs, but in vain. They have now turned to the psychiatrist for help.
Studies show that teenagers are spending long hours in front of computer or television screens. Extended TV time can also be linked to increasing rate of obesity among teens. Researchers say that the rate of TV viewing is high among adolescents, especially girls, if they come from a socio-economically disadvantaged neighbourhood.
What is an addiction?
It starts as a craze, which becomes an obsession, and then an addiction over a period of time. Generally, people get addicted to things or activities, which give them thrill or a sense of security.
Venu was nine when he got a PlayStation as a birthday present. For the first three months, Venu, who is based in Delhi, used it in a moderate manner. He did his lessons, played outdoors and enjoyed his PS2. But gradually, he started spending more time on his PS2. His academic scores tumbled, he developed concentration problems, and stopped going out to play. Says his mother Swati Gupta, “It took over so gradually, that we didn't realise what was happening. It was when my son's report card showed poor result that we got to know about the enormity of the problem.”
Says Dr Yusuf Matcheswalla, psychiatrist at Masina Hospital, Mumbai: “The addiction is basically the same; it is the substance that has changed. But, there is a definite rise in the so-called modern-day addictions.” He says the root cause of most addictions can be traced to one's personality type, underlying depression, family history, or the Freudian theory of deprived childhood. “Whatever the cause, an addiction disrupts the day-to-day functioning of the person,” explains Matcheswalla. “Besides, it is difficult to get the person to accept the problem, as most tend to rationalise the situation. And, in the case of new-age addictions, like online chatting or six-pack abs, it is easier to dismiss it as a fad.”
Sometimes, it is just loneliness or lack of structured activities that triggers the urge to indulge something, leading to addiction. After her husband's death four years ago, Rama had no one to talk to or share her woes. One day while surfing the net in her two-room apartment in East Delhi she came across a friendship site and posted her details on it. She got replies from two people who were ready to listen to her problems. Rama began spending most of her time chatting with her newfound friends, and even avoiding her daily activities in the process. She avoided phone calls from her mother and sisters, and even stopped responding to the doorbell.
Her addiction to chatting came to light when her mother visited her and found her in a shockingly shabby state. Rama had not even taken a bath for more than two months!
While addiction to alcohol, drugs, food, sex and even shopping are considered mental disorders, the addiction to cyberspace is still not included in the psychiatry handbook Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
A study in the US shows that the problem is worst not among game-obsessed teens, but among middle-aged women who stay at home, constantly using the net to connect to the outside world. A study by Dr Jerald Block of the Oregon Health and Science University shows that tech junkies display behaviour similar to substance addicts such as craving, withdrawal, and a constant need for more and better gear.
But some others in the medical fraternity think internet addiction is too new a condition to be medically classified, though statistics confirm that one in 10 internet users are addicts.
Are you an addict?
Experts say addiction is a complex behaviour, which is difficult to be categorised. Says Dr Samir Malhotra, psychotherapist at Fortis Hospital, Noida: “We can easily classify addiction to alcohol, tobacco and drugs, but to identify an internet addict or a food addict is not so easy.”
Addicts can spend as much as 18-20 hours on the activity, avoiding daily chores. “We have seen cases of internet addiction where patients have not taken bath for days together, surviving on chips and other ready-to-eat edibles, and not talked to their family for months,” says Dr Aruna Broota, a Delhi-based psychiatrist.
Broota talks about one of her patients: “Recently, I got the case of a 16-year-old boy who spent at least 18 hours at a stretch on the internet surfing porn sites. For seven months, he had been bunking school. But his parents didn't realise the addiction until his mother saw him masturbating in front of the computer.”
Addiction can easily be identified by the people who live with the addict. Anyone who starts displaying an unusual behaviour—indulging in a specific activity and preferring it to other important chores—is a potential addict. Doctors say that in most cases the addict realises his problem, but tends to ignore it.
Says Dr Samir Parikh, head of the department of psychiatry, Max Hospital, Delhi: “Addictions can be mistaken as obsessions, especially in cases where the person is addicted to food or colour. If a person displays behavioural changes, becomes aggressive, restless, anxious in the absence of a certain thing, they should seek professional help.”
Treating an addict
“Addiction is like any other behavioural or psychiatric problem. The treatment also includes medicines to treat underlying depression or anxiety,” says Dr Deepak Raheja, consultant psychiatrist, Paras hospital, Gurgaon. “We have to regulate the transmission of neurochemicals, which are responsible for behaviour-related problems. Lifestyle management helps a lot. Most importantly, an addict needs strong support from family and friends.”
The most effective remedy in such cases, says Matcheswalla, is a gradual withdrawal from the substance. If a person is addicted to talking on the cellphone or chatting on the net, the solution would be to cut down on the average time spent on the activity every day.
It is important to bring down the dependence. First, one needs to analyse the personality type of the patient and then, conduct psychological tests to determine the extent of the problem. In most cases, counselling ensures an increased awareness on the issue. “However, in extreme cases, abrupt withdrawal coupled with psychological therapies and anti-obsession medications is the only remedy,” adds Matcheswalla. As the wise say, too much of anything is poison.
With Maithreyi M.R. and Jisha Krishnan
Internet addiction: Middle-aged women and teenagers are hooked to friendship sites, social networking sites and pornographic sites.
Gaming addictions: Children and even adults who spend most of their leisure time on videogames are increasing.
Addiction to food: Mostly mistaken as obsession, food addicts are the most difficult to predict.
Hiccups can occur at any age and also in utero. They are more common in the evenings. Protracted and intractable hiccups are more prevalent among men.
Itching is both compulsive and pleasurable because, within the brain, it increases activity in the area associated with compulsive behaviour and reduces activity in the one linked with unpleasant emotions.