Substance abuse among youth in South Africa

The majority of the children who present with SUDs are exposed to daily traumas such as shootings in their community, physical and sexual abuse by close family or other community members and gang related violence. Many of the children have also lost close family members through violence or imprisonment and as a result of this and other factors these children have often suffered neglect from an early age. Some children feel lonely, misunderstood and unloved and uncared for, others may start due to peer pressure, academic challenges or lack of alternative activities. Drugs are often easily available and affordable. Many adolescents with substance use disorders come from families in areas with low economic status, and often their parents or caretakers have drug or alcohol problems themselves. Given the strong correlation between other problems and SUDs, most learners benefit from identifying and dealing with their key problems.

Substance abuse among youth has severe effect on our communities and families, and have many potential health effects for the users, such as increased risk of injury and death due to either violence or accidents; increased probability of engaging in sexual behaviour with high risk of teen pregnancy and transmittable diseases; and increased risk for suicidal behaviour and psychiatric disorders. Abuse of different substances is furthermore also often the reason for declining grades, high absenteeism and school dropouts. Substance use during adolescent is also often associated with involvement in crime and gang-related activities.

In comparison to adults, adolescent can often use drugs more heavily and for longer periods without seeing the real damage they are doing. This is partly because many adolescents do not have to be accountable at work, do not need to pay rent, put food on the table or care for others in the same way that adults do. The motivation for change is, for this reason, very different to that of an adult. This requires a much specialised approach, a well-researched model and experienced staff, all of which is provided by our foundation.

It is difficult to know the actual number of drug users in South Africa, but the demand for evidence based, best practise treatment services in the Western Cape has increased over the last several years. Cape Town has seen an increase in demand for treatment services following awareness campaigns in the recent years such as the “I have a drug problem campaign” as mentioned above. The demand for treatment has exceeded available services in the past, and public and private outpatient and inpatient treatment centres are today struggling to meet the need of the communities.