The 26th of June is International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. Annually, SADAG commemorate this day as Substance Abuse Awareness Day. Age, peer pressure, and the low cost and easy accessibility of drugs and alcohol in South Africa are increasing the risk factors of abuse among adolescents and young adults. According to the World Drug Report 2021 the population most at risk of using drugs, young people aged 15–34, is projected to grow in the next decade, in particular in low-income countries. The average age for drug dependency in South Africa is a staggering 12 with 50% of South African teens drinking alcohol.
In its efforts to curb substance abuse and to support South Africans, especially the youth, the South African Anxiety and Depression Group (SADAG) in partnership with The National Department of Social Development has launched South Africa’s first WhatsApp chat platform.
Ke Moja WhatsApp Chat Platform - 087 163 2025
According to Dr Busisiwe Twala, SADAG Project Manager, they have seen an increase in adolescents and young adults (age 13-35) contacting their telephonic, SMS and online platforms and aim to promote the WhatsApp line as a more easily accessible resource for younger people. “Between April 2021 and March 2022, we have had 89 992 youths contact us through our existing helplines, an increase of 107% from 2020. Younger people use WhatsApp frequently and we believe that this new platform will offer more options when seeking support, guidance or help whether for themselves or a family member.” Twala says admitting there’s a problem is the first step in overcoming addiction to alcohol or drugs, but deciding to reach out for help is the necessary second step.
“Young people do not know where to go to find assistance for various problems, which includes substance abuse, and this additional avenue provided by SADAG will assist in providing the necessary direction. The chat line will offer basic counselling, self-help tips and tools for dealing with substance use as well as referrals to resources and information for all age groups across the country.”
Contributing factors of substance abuse
Research indicates that not all young people are equally vulnerable to substance abuse but rather the combination of risk factors coupled with a lack of protection against substance abuse, that will determine how susceptible youths are to experiment and ultimately becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol. Peer pressure is one of the major contributing factors to youth substance abuse. Adolescents are either forced, persuaded or pressured to try drugs or alcohol by their peers and, in many instances, deceived into believing that using is either not harmful or that there will be no repercussions in using. Other risk factors include mental health illness such as anxiety or depression, isolation, lack of parental involvement, dysfunctional social relationships and poverty. Substance abuse amongst learners is usually associated with crime, violence, deviant behaviour and bullying and can lead to a number of mental health disorders. Substance abuse also poses challenges in an academic context in terms of school discipline, classroom management, and aggression resulting in poor academic performance and possibly dropping out of school.
Most commonly used drugs
According to the latest report released by the South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (SACENDU), those younger than 20 years admitted to treatment centres in 2021, reported cannabis as their primary substance of use.
In addition to alcohol, popular drugs used by adolescents include crystal methamphetamine, commonly known as crystal meth or tik (a pill that is melted by a candle), ecstasy (looks and tastes like sweets), codeine (found in many cough medicines), nyaope (which contains a mix of different drugs, detergents such as washing powder, other chemicals, and even rat poison), flakka (similar to ecstasy, is a powder and tastes like sweets), cocaine and Mandrax.
Signs of addiction
• Loss of interest in day-to-day activities
• Absence from school/dropping out
• Change crowd (to hang out with those who are users)
• Become moody, negative, cranky, or worried all the time
• Have trouble concentrating
• Lack of energy resulting in sleeping much more
• Aggressive behaviour that will lead to getting into fights, being argumentative
• Committing crime to feed the habit
• Red or puffy eyes
• Unexplainable weight gain or loss
• Frequent runny nose
Despite the many reasons for adolescents using substances, including a desire to experiment and to explore new experiences, it’s important to note that although drugs and alcohol might seem to offer a temporary escape from problems, the serious long-term consequences can be prevented through early intervention.
The Ke Moja WhatsApp Chat Platform is available seven days a week, from 8am to 5pm. WhatsApp 087 163 2025 for a live chat with one of the counsellors.
Alternative contact resources:
• The National Department of Social Development 24 hour Substance Abuse Helpline – 0800 12 13 14
• SMS 32312
REFERENCES AVAILABLE ON REQUEST