This Wednesday is the start of South Africa’s Drug Awareness Week. The campaign is designed to create awareness around drug and alcohol addiction in South Africa and is an opportunity to address how we can effectively reduce the impact of substance abuse.
Misuse of substances is not limited to South Africa, but a serious issue across the globe. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (2016) approximately 275 million people aged 15-64 years have used drugs at least once during the year 2016. However, with roughly one out of every five adult South Africans abusing mind-altering substances, drug use and addiction is a particularly widespread problem in South Africa, causing a multi-billion-rand debt in the national economy every year.
This substance abuse has a devastating social impact upon community life, negatively effecting industry, education, training and family, and contributing to crime, violence, financial problems, homelessness and begging.
Addiction is a disease.
One of the greatest issues in tackling this war on drugs is the failure and unwillingness to recognise that addiction is a medical condition. Whilst social drug and alcohol users are able to stop on occasion, addicts have difficulty stopping. As their tolerance increases, they need more and more of the chosen substance to achieve the desired effects. In time they will start to develop a physical dependency on the substance and suffer from withdrawal symptoms when they stop. At this point, biopsychological assistance is needed to help a person stop.
Why do people become dependent?
Genetics:studies reveal that there is a significant genetic competent to addiction. Children with parents who are addicts are 50% more likely to become addicts themselves.
Environmental Factors: factors such as peer pressure or exposure to drugs can lead to dependency
Trauma and Abuse: If left untreated, trauma and abuse can push people to turn to drugs as a coping mechanism. Over time this can develop into addition.
Consequences of substance abuse:
Drugs can have health consequences that are long-lasting and permanent, with some effects continuing even after a person has stopped taking the substance.
- Mental Health: drug use and mental illness can work in a two-way relationship. Whilst illicit substances are known to trigger mental health conditions, a person who is suffering with a mental disorder may resort to drugs as a short-term form of self-medication.
- Illness, Infection & Disease: a weakened immune system increases the risk or illness, infection and disease, including chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
- Liver Damage or Failure
- Lung Disease
- Seizures, Strokes, Mental Confusion and Brain Damage
- Infant Mortality
- Lower Life Expectancy
- Suicide and Homicide
- Memory and Attention Problems
What can be done?
Whilst the government has a responsibility to tackle drug use in a society, providing adequate prevention, early intervention services and rehabilitation among other services, there is much that can be done at a societal level to help those in need.
Provide Information: knowledge is power. By understanding the ramifications of taking drugs, a person can make the decision to stay away from them. Those who are vulnerable to substance use disorder and their families must take measures to inform themselves on the issue and be aware of the risks in and around their communities. Brochures, campaigns and community meetings are all effective ways of disseminating information.
Provide Support: there are many ways you and your neighbourhood can support those vulnerable to drug abuse. This includes arranging support groups, mentoring and organising activities and clubs within your neighbourhood (see below).
Neighbourhood sports: whether it is the stress of school, or peer pressure, youths can be vulnerable to drug misuse. Encourage the youth in your community to stay away from the influence of drugs by setting up a local sports team or another activity. Among many other benefits, sports have been proven to improve self-esteem, help individuals to handle stress better, increase academic performances and improve relationships with family. Such factors can help prevent a range of problems, including substance abuse.
Shift in attitude towards drug-takers: substance use disorder can be an illness or a product of illness. Thus, it is important to remove the stigma around drug abuse and the belief that it should be punished, and look to alterative rehabilitation methods. Again this can be addressed through education.
Provide Positive Incentives: rather than punishment, provide positive incentives that will encourage people to engage in positive behaviours such as discounts, recognition and coupons.
Positive Environments: creating positive family, school and community environments that promote and support healthy decision making in young people.
Whilst it is important to remember that there is no single strategy or policy to prevent drug abuse, many coordinated strategies can help to change specific behaviours. Studies suggests that successful community-level change is more likely to be achieved when ‘strategies are part of a comprehensive plan that targets individual youth and adults and also impacts the shared community environment in which we live.’
The South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use Report.
The system monitors alcohol and other drug (AOD) abuse treatment admissions in South Africa. The key findings from Jaunuary 2019 are:
- Alcohol is the dominant substance of use in the EC and KZN
- Cannabis is the most common substance of use in GT and the NR
- Under the age of 20, cannabis is the primary substance of choice across South Africa, whilst cocaine-related problems are relatively low.
- There has been an increase in the number of under 20 year olds coming to treatment in CT
- There has been an increase in females under 20 years coming for treatment in GT
- There has been an icnrese in the number of Black Africans coming to treatment in WC
- However, in all regions, the proportion of Black African persons in treatment is less than would be expected.
- 16% of persons across all regions presented with a dual diagnosis – 49% of these reported current mental health problems at the time of admission, 19% suffered from hypertension, and 7% diabetes.
Community-based harm reduction services
- TB HIV Care’s Step Up Project: provides harm reduction and HIV prevention services to people who inject drugs (PWID) in the Cape Metro, Nelson Mandela Bay and eThekwini.
- OUT’s HARMless project: works in Region 3 of the City of Tshwane.
- The Department of Family Medicine at the University of Pretoria’s Community Orientated Substance Use Programme (COSUP)
- City of Tshwane household assessments by Community Health Care workers
- Anova Health Institute’s Jab Smart Project: this project provides harm reduction and HIV prevention services for PWID in Sub-district F of the City of Johannesburg.
Other Useful Contacts:
The South African Federation for Mental Health.
- Information Desk: 011 781 1852
- Whatsapp Helpline:076 535 1701
- Website: www.sancanational.info
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG)
- 24 Hour Helpline:0800 121314
Substance abuse treatment centres:
The OurHood Team 🙂
Connecting Neighbours, Strengthening Communities