You or your teen struggling with substance abuse? Here's a WhatsApp helpline you can contact

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Drugs and alcohol in South Africa are not expensive, making them easily accessible to teenagers.
Drugs and alcohol in South Africa are not expensive, making them easily accessible to teenagers.
Fani Mahuntsi

When police minister Bheki Cele announced that the victims of the Scenery Park tavern disaster are all minors, ranging from 13 to 17, South Africans were shocked. 

How could kids that young be in a tavern? How do they get access to alcohol? 

There are still too many questions and not enough answers. But stories of teenagers using addictive substances are everywhere. 

Which is why now there is access to help at the fingertips of those in need after the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) has launched the country’s first WhatsApp helpline.

The statistics are scary. SADAG says the average age for drug dependency in South Africa is a staggering 12 with 50% of South African teens drinking alcohol. According to the World Drug Report 2021 the population most at risk of using drugs, young people aged 15–34, is projected to grow in the next decade, in particular in low-income countries.

The WhatsApp helpline, in partnership with the national department of social development, was launched ahead of Substance Abuse Awareness Day.

The "Ke Moja, I’m fine without drugs" helpline is available from 8am to 5pm 7 days a week. Through the chat, you can have access to a SADAG counsellor, access to nationwide referrals and counselling available in different languages.

According to Dr Busisiwe Twala, SADAG Project Manager, they have seen an increase in adolescents and young adults (age 13-35) contacting their telephonic, SMS and online platforms and aim to promote the WhatsApp line as a more easily accessible resource for younger people.

Read more | Innocent Masuku who played Bobo on Yizo Yizo on how drugs ruined his career

“Between April 2021 and March 2022, we have had 89 992 youths contact us through our existing helplines, an increase of 107% from 2020. Younger people use WhatsApp frequently and we believe that this new platform will offer more options when seeking support, guidance or help whether for themselves or a family member,” she says.

Dr Twala says reaching out and realizing you need help is a necessary step to take.

“Young people do not know where to go to find assistance for various problems, which includes substance abuse, and this additional avenue provided by SADAG will assist in providing the necessary direction. The chat line will offer basic counselling, self-help tips and tools for dealing with substance use as well as referrals to resources and information for all age groups across the country.”

Research by the South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (SACENDU), has revealed that those younger than 20 years admitted to treatment centres in 2021, reported cannabis as their primary substance of use.

In addition to alcohol, popular drugs used by adolescents include cocaine, Mandrax and the following:

  • Tik - a pill that is melted by a candle
  • Ecstasy - looks and tastes like sweets 
  • Codeine - found in many cough medicines 
  • Nyaope - contains a mix of different drugs, detergents such as washing powder, other chemicals, and even rat poison 
  • Flakka - similar to ecstasy, is a powder and tastes like sweets.

According to SADAG, further research shows that not all young people are equally vulnerable to substance abuse but it is rather the combination of risk factors and a lack of protection against substance abuse, that will determine how susceptible youths are to experiment and ultimately becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol.

Peer pressure has also been identified as a “major contributing factor”.

“Adolescents are either forced, persuaded or pressured to try drugs or alcohol by their peers and, in many instances, deceived into believing that using is either not harmful or that there will be no repercussions in using.

Read more | From the archives | 'Tik was my hiding place' – Former addict on why she's helping others beat addiction

“Other risk factors include mental health illness such as anxiety or depression, isolation, lack of parental involvement, dysfunctional social relationships and poverty. Substance abuse amongst learners is usually associated with crime, violence, deviant behaviour and bullying and can lead to a number of mental health disorders,” SADAG says in a statement.

Signs of addiction
  • Loss of interest in day-to-day activities
  • Absence from school/dropping out
  • Change crowd (to hang out with those who are users)
  • Become moody, negative, cranky, or worried all the time
  • Have trouble concentrating
  • Lack of energy resulting in sleeping much more
  • Aggressive behaviour that will lead to getting into fights, being argumentative
  • Committing crime to feed the habit
  • Red or puffy eyes
  • Unexplainable weight gain or loss
  • Frequent runny nose

To use, the Ke Moja helpline WhatsApp 087 163 2025. Alternative contact resources are the national department of social development 24 hour Substance Abuse Helpline on 0800 12 13 14 and the SMS line 32312.

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