Substance abuse is when a person uses too many of a substance or for the wrong reasons, for example, higher doses of a painkiller than was prescribed or alcohol to numb pain.
Substance abuse differs from addiction.
A person who is addicted cannot control their use of a substance even though it’s harmful to them, while a person who abuses a substance can still quit at any time. There is a thin line between the two where abuse becomes an addiction.
”The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety, it is connection.” Johann Hari
Drug addiction in South Africa is twice the world norm. Dr Antoinette Basson of the Youth Research Unit at UNISA said in 2017 at the National Youth Research Conference that 60% of drug addicts in the Western Cape are younger than 20 years old.
Drugs in schools are serious business. The Western Cape Education Department recently raised the alarm bells after drug testing of students during the first half of 2017 revealed truly worrying results. ACCSA Addiction Education College gave the following results in an article on October 9, 2017:
- 66.7% of Western Cape school kids tested for drugs, tested positive.
- A total of 360 primary school learners from 36 schools were tested, 229 tested positive.
- 605 high school learners from 17 school were tested, 415 tested positive.
- Tests were only conducted on learners who had been previously suspected of drug usage.
- There are approximately 9 million addicts in South Africa.
- 2 million people in South Africa are problem drinkers.
The crippling damage drugs cause to the brain has remained unseen – until recently. SPECT stands for single-photon emission computerized tomography, a method for imaging the activity of the brain. It shows areas of activity and inactivity. The “holes” in the brain are actually areas that are inactivated by the use of a drug or some behaviour practice. Abstinence will restore much but not all of the brain function. The more chronic the use, the less restoration of activity.
- loss of appetite or ”munchies.”
- weight loss
- dilated or constricted pupils
- bloodshot eyes
- dry mouth, disorientation
- aggressive behaviour
- mood swings
- skin lesions
- nausea and vomiting
Why are kids so easily persuaded to start using?
Children and teens tend to make decisions with the Limbic brain, also called the emotional brain. This part of the brain is responsible for emotions, feelings, and instinct. The emotional brain is often seen as responsible for a great deal of stress response, acting primarily on instinct instead of logic.
In teens and children, the emotional brain is developed long before the pre-frontal lobes. The prefrontal lobes or Neo-cortex is the brain’s area responsible for problem-solving, conscious thought, and language. The pre-frontal lobes are only fully developed by age 25 years. This is the part of the brain that responds to situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences. This is usually the time a young person starts to realize they have a problem quitting drugs. Teens and children do not have the capacity yet to think analytically.
A teen’s desire to be liked, accepted and fit in originates in the emotional brain. They process most information with the emotional brain. This makes them a target for drug dealers. They make decisions based on emotions, without considering the long term consequences – just because it feels right. Later they struggle to explain what they were thinking. Truth is they weren’t thinking as much as they were feeling.
A child who comes from a home where their basic needs are not met, are more prone to start using drugs as a coping or soothing mechanism. In fact, scientists discovered that they were 2-4 times more likely to grow up to be an addicted adult for each traumatic incident that happened to a child.
What causes addiction? Easy, right? Drugs cause addiction. But maybe it is not that simple.
Who is more likely to start using drugs
A person is more susceptible to start using drugs if they
- live in a chaotic home environment,
- have ineffective parents,
- are neglected,
- are inappropriately aggressive,
- poor school performers,
- or part of a deviant group among whom drug use is approved.
Hurt is at the centre of all addictive behaviors. Gabor Maté
- Declining grades
- Dropping out of activities
- Use of deodorizers or incense
- The disappearance of valuables and money
- Lying/ hiding things
- Running into trouble at school/ law
- Secretive about friends/ possessions & activities
- Demanding more privacy
- New interest in friends or fads
- Use of eye drops