The topic of substance abuse is never far from the media’s attention. Whether it’s an illegal drug bust or a Drive Alive advert expounding the evils of drinking and driving, we are exposed day in and day out to the subject and warned of the dangers. Why is it then that in spite of the warnings, the aggressive advertising and the ongoing educational campaigns in our schools, substance abuse persists?
The latest media hype has centred around the sensational story of Prince Harry and his experimentation with marijuana. The story has shocked royalists and challenged the popular belief that substance abuse is a lower class problem. In truth, substance abuse cuts through every stratum of society. It does not discriminate on the basis of class, age or race.
Statistics released by the South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (SACENDU) indicate that substance abuse is on the increase in South Africa. More and more people are seeking treatment and mortality rates linked to substance abuse are soaring. Findings show that the average age of those seeking treatment is getting younger and younger each year, and this is a cause for concern.
Children and adolescents are abusing alcohol and drugs despite campaigning by organisations such as SANCA in schools. Not only is this problem persisting, it seems to be on the rise. American and British statistics reveal a similar trend. The substances most frequently abused are alcohol and marijuana, and prevalence is considerably higher among adolescent males than females.
The question remains as to why the incidence of drug and alcohol abuse should be so high among adolescents today. According to social science researchers, most initial drug and alcohol use takes the form of experimentation. This experimentation is precipitated by factors such as enjoyment, curiosity, peer-pressure and tumultuous adolescent emotions. Familial risk factors, such as parental conflict and a lack of appropriate affection, also play a part. According to British Psychiatrist Stanley Theodorou working at the Community Alcohol Service in Reading, these familial risk factors “tend to reduce or arrest the development of self-esteem that would normally protect against peer pressure”. He adds that “low self-esteem tends to lead to the development of anxiety and depression that could prompt attempts at self-medication.”
Dr Theodorou states that the research indicates that the most significant risk factor for drug abuse is peer-pressure, whilst the most significant risk factor for alcohol abuse is parental modelling. A child who is brought up by one or more alcoholic parent is at an increased risk of abusing alcohol themselves.
Among children and adolescents, substance abuse can produce lethargy, hyperactivity, agitation, dis-inhibition, hyper-vigilance, shortened attention span, impaired psychosocial and academic functioning and a disruption of thought processes. These are the warning signs to watch out for. These symptoms can impede development and lead on to risk-taking behaviour, aggression and suicidal tendencies. Substance abuse is therefore not to be taken lightly as it has potentially fatal consequences.
If you recognise that you, or a loved one, have a problem with substance abuse, seek treatment. Too often the warning signs are overlooked by family members and friends who desperately do not want to believe that such a problem exists. There is no shame in admitting that you have a substance abuse problem. It takes an incredible amount of courage to seek help. Prince Charles has understandably been commended on his swift reaction to his son’s problem in sending him to a rehabilitation clinic. The Depression and Anxiety Support Group offers telephone counselling by trained counsellors, and referrals to appropriate mental health professionals and support groups around the country. A new toll-free line has been established which is dedicated to substance abuse counselling and referrals. The number is 0800 11 8392 and it is manned Monday to Friday from 8am – 7pm, Saturdays from 8am – 5pm and Sundays 9am – 1pm.
Help is available if you choose to seek it. Don’t ignore the warning signs.