How My Prescription Drug Abuse Chained Me to Self-Harm


How My Prescription Drug Abuse Chained Me to Self-Harm

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

If there is one thing worse than suffering through depression in silence, it is the eternal struggle of finding a compatible doctor and therapist. The trial-and-error nature of finding the right treatment leaves a lot of gaps for you to fall into – slipping through the cracks into the emptiness of addiction, clutching your prescription for company.

And boy, was my first shrink a dud.

One not-so-great day last February, I sat in the waiting area of a clinic, battling my latent anxiety of opening up to a complete stranger. As my turn came, I glanced at the previous patient, face red and eyes puffy from crying. I should have been warned. I walked in to a rapid-fire question round that could give Koffee with Karan a run for its money. By the end of the ordeal, the man had prescribed me a cornucopia of pills – 10 in all – spread over the course of the day. He had not mentioned therapy, but by then, I couldn’t care less.

I was finally on the road to recovery. Or so I presumed.

Here’s the thing about prescription pills. You think they’re harmless because they are legal. After all, you’re getting them after handing a compounder a doctor’s prescription, instead of handing a drug dealer a handful of crumpled notes in a shady galli. You think you aren’t doing anything exceptionally reckless or dangerous. But that is far from the truth.

Once my doctor gave me the pills for clinical depression, after months of troubled sleep, I was knocked out by 9.30 pm. A single pill was enough to take my mind off whatever I’d be thinking, a shutdown button for my thoughts, without having to resort to more permanent, irreversible measures.

I’d lost track of how long I had had writer’s block, as the medication would numb my mind into not thinking.

The pills made me drowsy, disoriented. I’d enter a room and forget why I was there. Sometimes I’d mistake one person for another and carry on a conversation with them for about 10 minutes before I’d realise that wasn’t my mother I was talking to, it was the maid.

And yet, the bigger blunder was staring me in the face this entire time.

I have no idea when I became hooked to the drugs. Despite tripping balls on the medication originally prescribed to help me cope, I had the full support of my family and friends. Every time dad would ask me if my stock was running low, I’d say yes, even if that wasn’t true. I’d pop pills in the middle of lectures. I would be faded and walking down the road, and wouldn’t have to worry; I had my prescription to flash to the cops. Life – when I was lost in the dissociative fugue of the pills – couldn’t have been better.

People advised me to steer clear of pot and liquor, but guess who dived into it head- first? I got away with a lot, while I was living in a hostel with no family to monitor me. I’ve had my regular dosage with Old Monk and Coke, instead of water. I’ve smoked a joint before and after I’ve had my dose. This gave me a different kind of a high. Mixing pills with alcohol and marijuana would lead to ever-ascending heights of euphoria. Even after switching doctors and being prescribed another set of completely different medication, my abuse continued. My family and friends, clueless about my misadventures, were secure in the knowledge that I was only taking what had been prescribed to me by a qualified doctor.  

There’s no stigma around prescription medication; it isn’t considered a vice like alcohol, cigarettes, or marijuana. Still, refusing to recognise the demon of addiction doesn’t mean it isn’t perched on your back. A New Yorker report, titled “An Epidemic of Pain in India”, features an International Narcotics Control Board report which states that 19 per cent of people abusing opioids in this country are doing so through prescription medication. Despite this, no one thinks twice if the pill you’re allowing to run your life came out of an official-looking wrapper.

Numb to the world, it took a terrible breakdown to realise how much the pills had been damaging me. That’s when I realised that I had to stop. I’d lost track of how long I had had writer’s block, as the medication would numb my mind into not thinking. My sex life had… issues. It messed up my sleeping schedule and college attendance. I gained weight, lost sleep, and ended up intentionally hurting myself, leading to a spiral of self-loathing. And each time, my trips just got worse.

Before I could do more permanent damage to myself, I cleaned up my act. I cut down on drinking, smoking up, and the meds. Some days were easy. I would sit in my room, curled up with a book and a warm cup of tea and read until dawn. Other days were gruelling. My friends would go drinking and I’d have to force myself to turn down their invitations – a test of willpower and maturity that sparked in me a genuine desire to recover.

I realised that pills could only take me so far. The rest of the journey was my own to make.

I am currently enjoying six months of sobriety from my pills. I’ve made a conscious effort to keep myself engaged and busy. If I am low, I am able to recognise the patterns and do something about it, rather than pop a pill like the addict I was becoming. Although I still have a few stowed away in my bag. It’s an SOS supply, in case I find myself terribly troubled. But it is also a constant, healthy reminder – of what I’ve left behind and what I could have become.