The facts are that drug abuse is rife in South Africa. From over-the-counter appetite suppressants to heroin, there are a variety of drugs that are freely available to your child, whether ten years old or twenty-two, irrespective of race or socio-economic status.
Despite government efforts to wage war on 'traffickers' and 'pushers', statistics from the South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (SACENDU), an alcohol and other drug surveillance system operational in Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, Mpumalanga, and Gauteng (Johannesburg/Pretoria), show substance abuse is on the increase in South Africa, and chances are your child has already been exposed to some kind of illegal substance.
According to Ken Hovelmeier, author of Common Sense and Your Teenager: "As a parent, you may well wonder how you would ever know that your child is using drugs. Of course, the user will generally take steps to make sure that no one is aware of what he is doing, and this secrecy makes it more difficult to spot. However a number of studies have shown that the majority of users tend to exhibit the same broad range of symptoms."
These symptoms include:
· Poor appetite or increased appetite
· No interest in personal appearance
· Unexpected absence from home or overnight
· Drop in school performance - 'don't care attitude'
· Spends protracted periods in his room in isolation
· Slow and/or halting speech
· Gives up organized activities
· Blood spotting on clothes, mainly shirts or pyjama tops
· Stooped posture
· Extreme or protracted lassitude and/or fatigue
· Sickly sweet pungent smell in room or near him
· Dilated or pinpoint pupils
· Inappropriate mood swings, irrational behaviour, change of friends, depression
But Ken also warns: " Just because your child shows one of the signs mentioned, does not mean that he/she is using drugs. However, if your child is exhibiting a combination of the factors, and this is accompanied by a marked change in general behaviour, this could well point to drugs being used, and could be the starting point for an investigation."
If you suspect that your child is using drugs, Ken suggests a couple of steps that can be taken. Taking your child to the doctor for a check-up is probably a good idea. You may even wish to discuss your concerns with your doctor and get his opinion. Next, a discussion with your child is recommended. The child may not want to admit to the problem right away, as he may fear your reaction. So don't over-react and keep their best interests at heart. A urine test may be used as a last resort in getting your child to admit the truth.
Your child may tell you that they 'can handle it'. Sadly, this is not the case. All drug users feel they 'can handle it', even confirmed addicts. Part of the iron grip that drugs have is the illusion of control. Your best bet is to get help.
The Depression and Anxiety Support Group offers telephone counselling by trained counsellors, and referrals to appropriate mental health professionals, mental health clinics and rehabilitation centres and to various support groups throughout South Africa. A toll-free line is currently available thanks to one of the group's pharmaceutical company sponsors, Sanofi-Synthelabo, dedicated to substance abuse disorders. The number to call is 0800 118 392, Monday to Friday, 8am to 7pm, and on Saturday, 8am to 5pm.
It is important to remember that there is most likely an underlying problem that caused your child to begin using drugs. You need to get to the bottom of this before your child can recover.
TYPES OF DRUGS AVAILABLE:
Non-synthetic narcotics: opium, heroin (rapidly on the increase in SA), morphine and codeine (found in most over the counter painkillers)
Synthetic narcotics: Wellconal, Pethadine and Physeptine
These have a calming, dulling effect on the central nervous system.
Barbiturates: Tuinal, Amytal, Nembutal, Seconal and Vesparax
Non-Barbiturates: Mandrax, Mogadon and Dalmadorm
Tranquilizers: Stellazine, Librium, Valium and Ativan
These increase alertness and energy, and inhibit fatigue and sleep.
Cocaine: best-known and mostly used by the affluent
Appetite suppressants: Prescription - Obex and Tenuate, and over-the-counter - Nobese, Thinz and Redupon (most commonly abused by adolescents)
Nicotine (in cigarettes) and Caffeine (in coffee) are also stimulants that can be abused.
The use of these can result in visual distortions and hallucinations.
Marijuana: 'dagga', 'weed' or 'grass'
These produce light-headedness and dizziness and can result in a loss of consciousness or death.
Chloroform, ether, benzine, petrol, paint thinners, aerosols and some synthetic glues.
Methamphetamines and MDMA:
'Speed'; and Ecstasy (MDMA): a chemical relative of methamphetamine or speed, but which is free for the most part of the hallucinations that normally accompany these psychedelic drugs.