Youth Initiative Magazine 2021

Empowering the Communities: A strategy for prevention

Written by Karthika Pillai, 1st December 2021
Illustration by Saptadipa Mallick

In recent years, substance use disorder has become prevalent among individuals globally due to being exposed to various risk factors which can be derived from cultural, social, and psychological conditions specific to a region. Focusing on the cultural aspect, India has the largest concentration of indigenous communities in the world except for Africa. There are 533 tribes as notified in the schedule under article 342 of the Constitution of India in different states and union territories of the country. In many tribal communities of India, the practice of preparing fermented beverages such as Mahua (Madhya Pradesh), apong (Rice Beer) in Assam, Handia (Jharkhand), Thaati Kallu (Kerala), Feni (Goa) to name a few are passed down from one generation to another as part of their cultural identity.

When the consumption of substances is considered to be a socially accepted activity in a social group, its abuse and harmful effects are often overlooked. Brewing alcoholic beverages is a traditional practice followed in the area to earn a livelihood and to celebrate important events in the village. During a field visit to Latehar, Jharkhand, a group of tribal women were consulted to identify the factors which contribute to substance use among individuals in the community. They stated that even though they were aware of the ill effects of substance use, it was difficult for them to find an alternative means to earn a living.

Following the Etiology model presented in the International Standards of Drug Use Prevention, it is important to take into consideration that macro factors such as poverty, limited access to healthcare, acceptance of substance use in the social environment along with micro-level indicators such as negative role modeling, lack of parental involvement and monitoring can contribute towards risky behavior among individuals. Alternative development is an important component of a balanced and comprehensive drug prevention system that addresses the macro and microelements that influence substance use. Poverty is a significant risk factor and communities that are dependent on manufacturing, distributing, and profiting from alcoholic beverages find themselves in a complicated situation.

Taking inspiration from alternative development measures, one can focus on creating a strong environment that builds up protective factors, reduces risk factors, and ensures meaningful economic opportunities that do not further harm the community or contribute to substance use. Providing crop growers with a similar or even higher income opportunity through healthy crop substitution can contribute to a stronger substance use prevention system.

The major issue pertaining to the subsistence economy is its complexity and interlinking components. For example, the inability to provide good livelihood opportunities is solely reliant on natural resources to provide for their needs, if a crop fails, or their resources are damaged in some way, then they do not have access to alternatives. If biodiversity conservation is to succeed among small farmers, conservation goals and rural development efforts must be integrated to give equal importance to local resource conservation, food self-sufficiency, and equitable market participation. In the same vein, preservation of traditional agroecosystems cannot be achieved unless the sociocultural stability of the local community is also assured. The stability of the community is one of the strongest protective factors that support substance use prevention.

Merely, transitioning to a different livelihood is not self-sustaining; external variables such as access to market opportunities are essential to ensure that project beneficiaries obtain income from their alternative economic activities. In this context, projects may need to carry out marketing surveys, support producers’ cooperatives, support processing and develop essential physical infrastructures like access to roads or community stores.

It is essential to encourage community participation, and promote social responsibility to develop a civic culture that rejects the usage of substance use which will, in turn, improve the health and overall condition of the community especially children and women as they are the most affected groups in such population. Even when alternative development projects are successful, some growers and processors are not likely to abandon production voluntarily simply because other opportunities already exist; they must see that there is a risk associated with staying in the illicit cultivation of drug crops, for this the communities may be mobilized, starting from the women.

If women are empowered and provided with the right skills, there can be a major shift in the paradigm. Women may be against illicit crop cultivation because it increases the risk of their family members contracting substance use disorders, but they are often not in a position to influence decisions concerning their families due to cultural situations such as the patriarchal system.

In a society, where women are burdened with a myriad of responsibilities without proper access to education and resources to inform themselves, it would be beneficial if they are provided the opportunity to make such choices themselves, in all areas of their lives including by employing the techniques of participatory rural appraisal. Local authorities may provide adequate public services such as quality education for children, skill development opportunities’ and conduct awareness drives about the schemes and policies available for their welfare. This may include support for multiple strategies that benefit women such as supporting opportunities for education, incorporating credit programs that allow for self-employment, and establishing childcare and other social services that support women.

Policymakers should stress the important factor that such groups with vast socio-cultural variations require specialized plans due to their heterogeneous nature. This will require linkages with a wide range of programs for women and child welfare and employment guarantee schemes, school health initiatives, lending organizations, and microfinance institutions. Stakeholders need to be sensitized to the effect of substance use disorders in their beneficiaries and converge wherever possible to provide an effective science-based intervention as social issues are interdependent. This gap should be bridged through convergence and promoting effective prevention activities among such communities to avoid the initiation of substance use behaviors and the latter stages of the substance use cycle.

Such interventions are only successful when they focus on enhancing the quality of life of such groups without hampering their historical cultural heritage and uniqueness and provide ample opportunities to become active members of the development strategy.


1 Sadath et. al, 2019, Factors Associated with Alcohol Misuse among Indigenous Tribal Men in Wayanad: A Qualitative Study, Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine, PP-516-522

2 Barr, 2014, Alternative Development’ as a Policy to Combat Illegal Drug Production, E-International Relations

3 National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), 2012 Bangalore, Pattern & Consequences of Alcohol Misuse in India- an epidemiological survey, Government of India & World Health Organization Collaborative Program (Biennium 10-11)

4 International Narcotics Control Board, 2005, Annual Report, Chapter-I, Alternative development and legitimate livelihoods PP-1-11

5 UNDP, 21st January 2000, Guidelines on Gender Mainstreaming in Alternative Development, Final Draft

6 Altieri, 2001, in Encyclopedia of Biodiversity (Second Edition), PP-119-125

7 International Conference Feldafing (Munich) / Germany, 2002, The Role of Alternative Development in Drug Control and Development Cooperation

8 United Nations general assembly, 8th September 1998, Action Plan on International Cooperation on the eradication of Illicit Drug Crops and on Alternative Development.

9 United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, 1988

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