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Decisive plan needed to help addicts in South Africa

While there are programmes to combat drug and alcohol use in South Africa, psychologist Raksha Singh says a major problem is lack of a decisive plan to deal with the increasing number of young patients addicted to whoonga, writes Byrone Athman for News24.

In the light of National Drug and Alcohol week, from 21 to 27 January, KwaZulu-Natal psychologist Raksha Singh, who specialises in the treatment of drug and alcohol abuse, shared her advice on the topic.

“Now more than ever we are seeing a rise amongst females becoming dependent on drugs and alcohol regardless of age and race groups. Women are also becoming abusers of addictive medication for pain and sleep.

“Among our younger age groups (13-19 years) we are seeing a pattern of dependency on marijuana and the heroin-based drug, whoonga,” said the former director and counselling psychologist of the Kelda Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Centre in Pietermaritzburg, which closed last year.

Explaining why people become dependent, Singh said that various factors must be taken into account when looking at addiction: “Studies have proven that there is a significant genetic component to addiction, with children who have parents who are addicts having a 50% greater chance of becoming addicts themselves.

“Environmental factors also play a big role with peer pressure and exposure to drugs and alcohol that once started as a physical experiment leading to physical dependency.

“Patients who suffer trauma and ongoing abuse that has not been dealt with often turn to substances such as drugs and alcohol as negative coping strategies, which in turn develop into the disease of addiction,” she stressed.

Singh also added that there is a noticeable difference between social drug and alcohol users to that of addicts, saying: “Addicts have difficulty stopping. They need more and more of the same substance to feel a high as they start to develop a tolerance for the substance.

“As time goes on they develop a physiological dependency on the substance and suffer withdrawal symptoms when they don’t have the substance, which leads to a preoccupation with getting the substance despite the harm that it may cause to themselves or others.”

In terms of dealing with the issue, the public is offered out-patient help at Sanca – the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.

Singh said that although there are programmes in place to combat drug and alcohol use, she believes that there is no decisive plan on how to deal with the increasing number of young patients addicted to whoonga.

“What is needed is not another newspaper headline on how the world is plagued by young patients hooked on whoonga, but a headline outlining a decisive plan to deal with the problem.

“These individuals need all the help they can get because they are trapped and suffer immensely once they are addicted and become slaves to the withdrawal symptoms and require biopsychological assistance,” said Singh, who proposed that government provides funding for more rehabilitation facilities that can house patients and provide proper medication for medical detoxification.

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