Sanju’s triumph over his addiction should be celebrated, not trivialised

Published: July 6, 2018

His triumph over his addiction should in fact be celebrated because not many are able to be free of their illness. PHOTO: IMDB

Addiction is a person’s psychological difficulty in the consumption of food, pornography and drugs or substances, among many other things. There are multiple theories to explain why people get addicted and the most plausible one is that addictive behaviours are a combination of heredity and the environment. That’s the reason that many people never get addicted or dependent on drugs and substances despite trying all kinds of stuff multiple times, while others get hooked to these merely in the first few interactions.

Being a therapist, I have seen people and families facing all kinds of stigma for having any psychological issues, but never have I ever seen a stigma so intense and heartbreaking for the family as that of drug or substance abuse disorder.

Growing up, I had a close maternal relative living with us who was addicted to drugs and substances. As a child, I had seen him suffering and struggling with himself and desperately jumping to any channel of healing that would promise solace. From pir babas to rehabilitation centres, he went looking everywhere for a way to get rid of his addiction and regain self-control.

He lost his family, he lost his children, he lost his career, he lost all his self-respect, he lost the love of everyone who once cared for him, and in the end, he lost his life amidst other people like him, probably on a footpath or under a bridge – homeless, hopeless,  loveless, childless and kin-less.

We still don’t know where he went after running from rehab for the 10th time, one of the addicts told us that he died years ago on the street and was buried by Edhi services. Now, a decade after that, as a therapist, I realise that he had schizophrenia and his addiction was a response to that mental condition – as it is with people with a psychotic disorder.

Fast forward to 2018, I watched Sanju recently and despite disagreeing on so many aspects of the film, my heart cheers for how he triumphed his addictions. When I heard one of my acquaintances say that Sanju was just the glorification of a loser, I got triggered emotionally.

My blood boils when I hear opinions of people reflecting the general attitude of our society towards drug and substance addiction. I spend half of my day with people struggling with relationships, failing at life, seeking parental support in their 40s, surviving multiple divorces and staying at the mercy of their weak self-control in terms of food, pornography, sex and drugs.

I don’t know Sanjay Dutt, but I know these people. I spend time with these people and witness the incredible pain their families bear at the hands of privileged people like my acquaintance stigmatising them. My acquaintance is privileged because she is not prone to addictions or any other psychological difficulties. These people use the privilege of having a decent mental health as a license to belittle those who are not like them.

She has no idea what Dutt and the people around him went through. His triumph over his addiction should in fact be celebrated because not many are able to be free of their illness. Would you not celebrate if people won from cancer, a disease that slowly spreads and kills you? Addiction ruins your life before slowly deteriorating your health and killing you. While watching Sanju, we should be inspired by his strength and his willingness and not be disgusted by his problem in the first place.

I remember one unfortunate incident when Shahmir Asif Bajwa, a fifth semester student at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), lost his life to drug overdose (OD). People within and outside the campus went berserk and held Bajwa responsible for his own death – acting as if he did not deserve any sympathy, grief and mourning.

In our country, the taboo of losing one’s life to drug overdose is bigger than the taboo of suicide; Bajwa was seen as a complete waste of life and nothing else he did mattered to anyone. Nobody saw him as a son, as a friend, as a student and most importantly, as a human being. He was just a drug addict for people and they did not see his death as a loss for the family but instead saw it as good riddance or a blessing in disguise.

It was forgotten that keeping drugs may be an illegal act, but the psychological factors and craving that lead Bajwa to OD were problems that needed to be addressed.

Given that, I wish people could understand that addiction is a psychological disorder just like depression or anxiety. Yet, it is stigmatised the most. We tend to hate addicts, believing that they have it all under control and just need to “man up”. We cannot even comprehend the cycle of shame, guilt and self-loathing an addict goes through before escaping into the drugs again as a coping strategy. We have no idea that one gets addicted because one has the genes for it, and the mere absence of these genes doesn’t make you a smarter or better human being.

An addict needs your support just as much as any sick person. He is not someone you disown or turn away, that will not solve the problem. Instead of seeing addicts as disgusting human beings, we need to show some empathy and help them. Mental illnesses themselves are taboo but addiction is never taken as an illness; it is taken as lack of self-control which to society is merely a flaw in the person’s character.

It is time we change that!

Zaofishan Qureshi

Zaofishan Qureshi

The author is a Clinical Psychologist and an Educationist based in Islamabad. She tweets @Zaofishan (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Hamnah Qureshi

    well written . the purpose is to learn and help , it is extraordinarily effective in someones life who is a drug addict . good message .Recommend

  • Zehra Chandio

    There are many recovering addicts who accomplished so much in life because they got proper treatment and acceptance. Many lives go to waste because of this hate.Recommend

  • Zaid Zia

    Sanju maybe a misogynist but truly a champion. It is tough to get rid of this. Ten years sober here. It takes everything from you for a while but abstinence does pay off.Recommend

  • Kumar

    He was terrorist who help Dawood Abrahim. He could saw himself just because his father was politician.Recommend

  • ABD

    While talking of drug addicts we should also talk about easy availability of drugs on the streets and drug is a very lucrative business for the drug mafia. We should educate young men and women that it is not cool to experiment with the drugs for sake of fitting in with the hip crowd and peer pressure. Initially people will give you drugs for free and once you are addicted you become customer for life and you would do anything to pay for your drug addiction. In the remote hilly area, people were introduced to tobacco smoking by leaving around cigarette packets on the public places, and once people got addicted they would start selling the cigarettes to the local people. The similar strategy is adopted by all businesses legal or illegal to get you hooked into their product and generate profits for themselves.Recommend

  • Yusra

    It’s written in a beautiful way and a very concise way. I highly appreciate that.
    Being a soon to be psychologist, I believe people are vulnerable, every single human being is vulnerable to the point that the strongest man sometimes break down with a prick of a smallest harsh word. Thats how vulnerable humans are. We need to understand that as a human being. A drug addict’s road to recovery should be celebrated in the same way we celebrate victories. We should encourage people in the rehabilitation centres on how far they have come. We must learn to accept that every person in the society is precious and the actions they are doing is not because they are an outcast or attention seekers but because they are unable to cope with the situations they are facing.
    In Pakistan every single person i come across is using defence mechanisms in some way because we as a society is so judgemental. We literally bash everything we could and then stare at amazement when people commit suicides.Recommend

  • Mohinder sandhu

    Very nice ji, BEAUTIFULRecommend

  • Ahsan

    I have so much to relate because as a child I witnessed it in the form of my father being a drug addict. I appreciate it. We gravely need the help of professionals like you to advance the idea of empathy instead of stigma.Recommend

  • Noor

    Bertrand Russel was one.Recommend

  • Noor

    I have so many issues with this film but addictiom was portryed accurately. It is something to be avoided. Sorry to hear about lums guyRecommend

  • Zaid Zia

    How is it relevant to this discussion? And court in the end released him without terrorism allegations.Recommend

  • Gulalai

    Not everyone has the kind of money and father to support rehabilitation. Not a hero he is.Recommend

  • Sharif


  • Sharif

    I recover but keep relapsing. Is there any way to avoid it?Recommend

  • ZauFishan Qureshi

    Sadly, yes.Recommend

  • ZauFishan Qureshi

    That too is a problem and I hope somebody with the right knowledge on this infrastructure could enlighten us.Recommend

  • ZauFishan Qureshi

    To get rid of any kind of addiction is indeed the toughest thing ever. As far as Sanju’s misogyny goes, I completely agree with you.Recommend

  • ZauFishan Qureshi

    Thank you.Recommend

  • ZauFishan Qureshi

    Firat of all, it is really incredible of you to keep trying like this despite of the relapses. Please, never stop trying. Therapy would help you cater the reasons for relapsing again and again. It would help you better with the rehabilitation.Recommend

  • ZauFishan Qureshi

    For any further information please feel free to email me.Recommend

  • ZauFishan Qureshi

    Really sorry to hear about your father.Recommend

  • ABD

    Scientific advances over the last quarter century have established that drug addiction is a chronic brain disease (Leshner, 1997. I am very surprised that as an ex drug-addict – how Sanjay Dutt keeps drinking alcohol and still able to be drug free.

    Drug abuse is only one step away from the Alcohol abuse. Sanjay did not learn his lessons, he is living dangerously by continuing to drink alcohol.

    By examining the thousands of Imaging of Brain, UK doctors have concluded that drug addicts brain image is different from people without addiction. It is concluded that some people are genetically prone to get addicted easily, that’s why not all people who drink alcohol become alcoholic.Recommend

  • John Fernades

    He was not a terrorist. Just a spoiled brat . What he did was sheer stupidity. But yes he was the darling of lot of the mafia kingpins in Mumbai including Dawood and Chota shakeel. Do remember that he was the alpha male for all the bandra boys ( children of celebrities) including salman khan who was his main chamcha and used to emulate him. Sanjay dutt was spoiled, immature but he was probably the biggest style icon of the mid 80’s to mid 90’s. You cannot deny the fact that he overcome a deadly addiction during a time when rehabilitation methods were still crude and management of withdrawal symptons was at a rudimentary stage as a science. But i agree that he would not have got away with the law if he was not Nargis and sunil dutt’s son. But then i have no problems with that. His parents were a golden hearted couple . Sunil dutt deserved to see the revival of Sanjay duttRecommend