In the past five years, there has been a rapid increase in the patterns of
alcohol and other drug use in South Africa, and significantly more young
patients are being admitted to treatment centres for drug-related problems.
Statistics released by the Hospital Association of South Africa (Hasa) showed
that there was a growing number of patients younger than 20 being admitted to
And, alarmingly, it was no longer unusual for
children as young as 10 or 11 to be experimenting with drugs.
There was also an increase in the number of young people - some as young as 14 -
dying from substance-abuse-related causes, the statistics showed.
In Durban, East London and Gauteng the average age of Mandrax users was 21.
Across the country, the mean age for dagga use ranged from 19 to 21.
In the Western Cape, 42 percent of patients younger
than 20 chose Tik (crystal meth) as their primary drug of abuse.
In KwaZulu-Natal, patients younger than 20 showed an overwhelming preference for
dagga (50 percent), alcohol (25 percent) and then Mandrax (20 percent).
Hasa spokesperson Kurt Worrall-Clare said:
"The mean age of patients in treatment centres reveals a younger patient
profile for specific drugs, notably cannabis.
"Treatment and demand for dagga and Mandrax-related problems across South
Africa is generally higher for people younger than 20 than for older
Worrall-Clare said the increase in alcohol and other drug use was owing to
stress, peer pressure, lack of parental guidance or parental ignorance and
But whatever the reasons for the increase in alcohol and other drug use, he said
the statistics were a cause for concern.
"Compounding the increase in substance abuse is the sad reality that some
segments of society perceive drug-taking to be cool, normal and acceptable.
"In some instances, adolescents are fragile and under extreme pressure, and
use drugs to prove that they're worthy members of the group, and others try to
buy social acceptance."
Worrall-Clare said that stricter control of children's cash should be
"With too much cash at their disposal and the freedom to spend at will,
some children become easy targets for drug pushers, so much so that the majority
of drug sales and experimentation happens in school grounds," he said.
Forty percent of children who are admitted for substance abuse have a dual
diagnosis: addiction which is the primary illness and a secondary or underlying
psychiatric condition such as clinical depression or bipolar mood disorder.
"In these cases, rehabilitation aimed at weaning the addict off the drug is
only one component of the treatment.
"Without psychiatric help to cope with their illnesses, patients will, in
time, simply revert to their addiction," said Worrall-Clare.
Claire Savage, Senior Information Officer at the South African Council on
Alcoholism and Drug Dependency centre, said they had seen a growing trend of
younger patients being admitted for rehabilitation.
"In the 2004 and 2005 period, more than 30 percent of our patients were
under the age of 20. It is very disturbing and there has been a definite shift
in the age when drug use starts.
"The younger people are physiologically and psychologically vulnerable to
drug use. The problem is that their bodies are less capable of handling the
She attributed the increase in drug usage to peer pressure and said societal
attitudes and behaviours needed to change.
"We need to have an attitude change and respect for the law. We need to
respect the law - it's seen as preventing you from having fun, but it's there to
Police spokesperson Bala Naidoo said although the SAPS had not done formal
research on which age groups were abusing drugs and alcohol, from personal
experience they had noticed that young people were increasingly turning to
He said: "What is important is that there have been more drug busts in the
city over the past months, and the availability is becoming depleted.
"The dealers as well as the runners are being arrested, and there has been
an increase in arrests lately."