24 June 2011

Confronting drug addiction

The UN has declared 26 June the International Day against Drug Abuse. Learn what to do if you suspect that your friend or family member may be taking drugs.


Drug abuse and addiction is an ongoing problem among teenagers and adults around the world. The United Nations has declared 26 June as the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, and acknowledges that “the world drug problem continues to constitute a serious threat to public health, [and] the safety and wellbeing of humanity, in particular young people”.

If you suspect drug addiction

Drug addiction is a very real problem, and it can happen to anyone, regardless of family background, culture, intelligence, popularity or confidence. Parents should be aware of the warning signs so that they can confront a drug situation before it gets out of hand. “The main sign is a change in behaviour,” says Dr Mohamed Bhikhoo, a family physician who sits on the Profmed Board of Trustees. “This can be a new circle of friends, a drop in grades, becoming withdrawn, not eating or sleeping properly, selling possessions or even taking objects or money from other people in the house.”

He says that similar changes can also be seen in adults who have turned to drugs, with the added sign that adults often say that they’re spending more time at work, as an excuse to be out of the house. As soon as a drug problem is suspected or identified, it is necessary for loved ones to take action.

“The biggest problem in dealing with drug abuse is that the individual must be prepared to admit to the problem,” says Dr Bhikhoo. “Once they have done that, it’s much easier to help them to make use of various resources in the country, like clinics and NGOs that treat drug dependency.”

He explains that the family must take the approach of making the individual understand that they need to get help. He cautions that drug addicts are manipulative, and make promises that they don’t keep, so it’s best to turn to a professional who is experienced in helping people to deal with substance abuse. “There are many ex-dependants who do excellent work in fighting drug addiction and also provide support for families.”

Some of the other organisations that support drug dependants and their families are Narcotics Anonymous ( and Sanca (, which also provides help for alcoholics.

Taking the tough approach

One of the organisations that does a great deal of good in helping families to deal with drug use is Tough Love. Tina Fysh, the chairperson of the organisation, is quick to point out that Tough Love doesn’t mean “cruel love”, and that they don’t encourage parents to throw their children out of the house.

“Basically, we offer support,” she explains. “We have support groups where parents can meet other parents who have gone through the same thing and talk about how to cope with their addict, teenager or problem child. Our approach is that parents actually have to work on themselves and their reactions to the teenager or addict, to change that reaction or behaviour.”

She says that when a parent suspects drug use, chances are that the child has already been on drugs for a couple of months. Tough Love is able to give them information, guide them through the processes of confronting and testing their child and then ultimately dealing with the addiction. Although they predominantly support parents of teenagers, they also provide support for any family of a drug addict.

Addiction to pharmaceutical drugs

South Africa has the largest and most well0developed pharmaceutical market in Africa, but the abuse of pharmaceutical drugs is on the rise around the world. The South African Medical Nutritional Institute has this year issued an urgent call to consumers to be much more conscious about the medicines that they purchase and use.

According to Dr Bhikhoo, people can become addicted to all kinds of pharmaceutical drugs, especially those that treat depression or anxiety that can give an initial positive feeling. They soon convince themselves that they need this feeling all the time. As a caution against becoming addicted to pharmaceutical medication, he has the following advice: “make sure that you’re not taking more than the prescribed dosage, and stick to one doctor and pharmacist who will keep a check on the frequency of prescriptions and alert you to the dangers of abuse.”

Whether you’re an addict yourself, the concerned parent of a teenager or if you suspect that an adult loved one might have a drug problem, knowledge is your best weapon against addiction. Take some time on the “Day against Drug Abuse” to raise drug awareness in your schools, homes and workplaces.

(This is an edited press release by Profmed, June 2011)

Related link

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