IN light of the passing of National Drug and Alcohol week (January 21-27), the Echo sat down with renowned Pietermaritzburg psychologist Raksha Singh, who specialises in the treatment of drug and alcohol abuse, to find out just how big a problem substance abuse is in our city. “Now more than ever we are seeing a rise amongst females becoming dependent on drugs and alcohol in our city 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) in the city 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 & Alcohol Rehabilitation Centre, which closed last year in March. Singh said that the problem with drugs and alcohol seems to be on the increase in schools, especially with marijuana, and added that crimes such as housebreaking and robbery often increase to service these addictions.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 that 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 develops into addiction,” said Singh. Singh said that there is a distinctly noticeable difference between social drug and alcohol users to that of addicts, stating that a social drinker can drink and stop on occasion whereas for addict it is different.“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,” she added.In terms of dealing with the issue in our city, the public is offered out-patient help at Sanca. Singh said that though there are programmes in place to combat drug and alcohol use, she believed 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 city is plagued by young patients hooked on whoonga, but a headline outlining a decisive plan to deal with the problem,” she said. “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 the city set up a rehab facility that can house patients and provide proper medication needed for the medical detoxification that would be effective. ALCOHOL FACTS:• Alcoholism is usually self-diagnosable.• Symptoms include repeated alcohol consumption despite related legal and health issues. • Those with alcoholism may begin each day with a drink, feel guilty about their drinking and have the desire to cut down on the amount of drinking.