'He has gone back to smoking dagga again': How to handle teen drug addiction

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'I think my son has a drug problem, what can I do?'
'I think my son has a drug problem, what can I do?'

Teenagers and drugs - it's every parent's nightmare, but what to do when you suspect your child is using illegal substances? 

This mom wrote to share her story with Parent24, and asked for help.

We did some research and spoke to an expert, to offer advice to this troubled parent. See below...


I am a mother of a 15 year old boy who is in grade 10. When my son was 14, I was phoned by the school to tell me that my son was found smoking dagga and they suspended him from school for 2 weeks.

I looked for a councilor who tried to talk to him about the results of the bad things that he was doing. We as parents we also talked to him and he said he was going to stop smoking dagga.  

When he went back to school, the school advised us to buy drug testing kits and randomly test him. I ordered 15 dagga testing kits from Amazon.com and I asked my husband to be testing him every time he comes back from school, he was always testing positive for dagga.   

I thought maybe he was addicted and needed to go to a rehabilitation center, the time I was organising for a rehab, that's when we went for a hard lockdown.

For 3 months we stayed with him indoors and he did not show any withdrawal symptoms, he was just happy and normal.

Soon after he went back to school I can tell from his red eyes and the way he looks that he has gone back to smoking dagga again.

I tried not to give him money, but he will just find a way to lie to me so that I give him money.  

I am so troubled and I don't know what to do, my son is so intelligent but his school work is dropping because he doesn't study. 

Please help us."

Teens and cannabis in SA

Sadly, this is not an uncommon story, and the South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use (SACENDU) in the Northern Cape reports that 36% of patients admitted to rehabilitation and treatment centres for substance abuse were aged 10 and 19.

According to the Youth Risk Survey of 2002 13% of teens use cannabis.

Also read: Parents of teens, here's what you really need to know about MDMA 

Coping strategies for parents

Local and international research has mostly focused on interventions aimed at the individual abusing substances and not on their families, their parents or siblings.  

A 2012 study by Copello and Templeton revealed that although substance abuse among adolescents has been well researched in South Africa, the challenges faced by parents raising the affected adolescents has not received the same attention, and neither have coping strategies for them been properly investigated. 

This is unfortunate, as the responsibility for treatment mostly falls on the parents.

Peer pressure 

Parent24 spoke to Kate Rowe of explorare.co.za, who said that "from the information this parent has communicated it seems as though this may be related to peer pressure." 

"From my perspective the support which he needs, is to support him to develop skills to navigate the peer pressure and to work with a counsellor who will be able to help him to do that," she advised.

Simply telling a teenager about the dangers is not enough, Rowe says. 

She suggests the parents also talk to the school to get a better understanding picture of what is going on there and what the school is doing to prevent more of this same behaviour.

"Working with the school can be very useful, if the school is open to that. Again the important thing here is to identify what is motivating him, it may be that being part of his group of friends means that they all smoke, and the need to be part of the group outweighs any negative affect that smoking might be having," Rowe explains. 

Also read: CBD oil is legal, and parents can treat their kids without risk of legal action 

Support groups

She adds that another good resource will be to find a support group for parents who are going through similar things, there are many different support groups available online.

"Being able to talk to other parents who are going through a similar thing can feel very supportive and they also may be able to share what worked, and did not, with their kids," she says.


In South Africa, treatment for drug addition is conducted at psychiatric clinics and hospitals, and at specialist private addiction treatment clinics. A quick online search will reveal those closest to you. 

Also, visit the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) for advise and support and for a list of places to call. 


Share your stories and questions with us via email at chatback@parent24.com. Anonymous contributions are welcome.

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