Substance Abuse in Young South Africans


Substance Abuse is defined as a long-term, pathological use of alcohol or drugs, characterized by daily intoxication, inability to reduce consumption, and impairment in social or occupational functioning; broadly, alcohol or drug addiction (Lewis et al,2009).

The drug problem in South Africa is extremely serious, with drug usage reported as being at twice the world norm. Over 15% of our population has a drug problem.Studies show that people who start drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to become alcoholics. School kids who use alcohol or drugs are three times more likely to get involved in violent crimes. Frighteningly the average age of drug dependency in South Africa is 12 years old and dropping ( Jordan,2013).

Along with peer pressure, there are several other major factors that can influence the abuse of drugs among youths namely weak parental control, child abuse, imitation, emotional stress, truancy among students, the availability of the drugs and the ineffectiveness of laws on drug trafficking.

Substance abuse is associated with both violent and income generating crimes by youths. Gangs, trafficking, prostitution and growing numbers of youth homicides are among the social and criminal justice problems often linked to adolescent substance abuse. It is reported that there are over 500 drug syndicates in South Africa . It was also reported that there is an increase in injected drug use which means more South Africans are using harder drugs than ever before.

“South Africa is battling not only the scourge of certain uniquely South African illicit ‘street drugs’, such as nyaope, but also the increasing abuse of legal medications, such as ARVs, painkillers and cough syrup, leading to what has been called ‘silent addictions’.” said the chairperson of the SA Medical Association, Mzukisi Grootboom.He said South Africa also had the highest incidence of foetal alcohol syndrome in the world, rampant teenage drug abuse, unemployment and a culture of violence.

Recently nyaope (also called whoonga), a mix of some scheduled drugs and antiretroviral medication, has become dramatically popular in the country’s townships. Studies also put the rate of alcohol use among South Africans at nearly 40%. The prevalence of tobacco use was at about 30%, while dagga was at about 8% (Williams,2016).

The SA National Youth Risk Behaviour Survey (YRBS) found that 15% of pupils admitted to using over-the-counter drugs to get high. The same study found that 11.5% of pupils had tried at least one drug, such as heroin, Mandrax, sugars (a mix of residual cocaine and heroin) or tik.The YRBS said 50% of the patients seen at specialist treatment facilities chose cannabis as the primary substance of abuse. For heroin, the proportion was 8%-23% (Williams,2016) .

I have seen young people in the street of Johannesburg injecting themselves with certain substances and in my head i just looked the other way and told myself this is not my problem, every person have a choice to do good or to do bad. Well after reading few articles and realize the crisis my country is in, i am left with a bitter taste in my mouth. The one question in my head is how did we end up here! The integrity of this country  is at stake and it will take us individuals to recognize our wrongdoings and make this country  a better place before we can attempt to make the world a better place.


Jordan, P. (2013). Drug abuse is damaging South Africa’s youth. FANews. Retrieved from

Lewis, J., Dana, R., & Blevins, G. (2009). Substance abuse counseling (4th ed., pp. 2-31). Pacific Grove, Calif.: Brooks/Cole Pub. Co.Retrieved from

Williams, W. (2016). Drug abuse is growing in SA. The Citizen. Retrieved from




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