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PRESS RELEASE: SUPPORT YOUTH TO COMBAT SUBSTANCE ABUSE

26 June 2017 

Every year 26 June is commemorated as International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. This year the SA Federation for Mental Health wants to draw specific focus to the issue of youth and substance abuse. Substance abuse often affects people during the years when they should be completing school or finding employment, and the entrapment of youth in drug and alcohol abuse, as opposed to engagement in legitimate employment and educational opportunities, poses distinct barriers to the development of individuals and communities.

Substance abuse among youth has severe effects on our communities and families, and has many potential physical and mental health effects for the users, such as increased risk of injury and death due to either violence or accidents; increased probability of engaging in sexual behaviour with high risk of teen pregnancy and transmittable diseases; and increased risk for suicidal behaviour and psychosocial disorders. Abuse of different substances is furthermore also often the reason for declining grades, high absenteeism and school dropouts as well as involvement in crime and gang-related activities.

Substance abuse can be common among people suffering from mental health conditions. People experiencing anxiety, depression, or other mental illnesses often turn to drugs or alcohol to find temporary comfort. These substances are also sometimes used as a coping mechanism for those enduring a great deal of stress or hardship, such as experiencing troubles at home or at school, or losing a loved one.

Using drugs or alcohol to deal with difficult feelings or symptoms of mental illness is sometimes called ‘self-medication.’ But it can make existing mental health problems worse. Studies have for example shown that people who consume high amounts of alcohol are vulnerable to higher levels of mental ill health.

According to reports published in the Journal of the American Medical Association:

  • Roughly 50 percent of individuals with severe mental disorders are affected by substance abuse
  • 37 percent of alcohol abusers and 53 percent of drug abusers also have at least one serious mental illness
  • Of all people diagnosed as mentally ill, 29 percent abuse either alcohol or drugs

It is vitally important that we educate our youth about the dangers of drugs and alcohol abuse, and that we provide them with the emotional and they need so that they do not develop the need to turn to substance use for comfort. It is also essential that parents, teachers and the youth themselves are educated about the signs and symptoms of substance abuse, so that they can identify it early on and get the affected person help as soon as possible.

SAFMH calls on all sectors of society to prioritise the support, education and protection of our youth against substance abuse, and to work together to safeguard their physical and mental health.

Signs of substance abuse -  

Behavioural changes:

  • Drop in attendance and performance at work or school
  • Frequently getting into trouble (fights, accidents, illegal activities)
  • Using substances in dangerous situations such as while driving or operating a machine
  • Engaging in secretive or suspicious behaviour
  • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Changes in personality or attitude
  • Sudden mood swings, irritability, or angry outbursts
  • Periods of unusual hyperactivity, agitation, or giddiness
  • Lacking motivation
  • Appearing fearful, anxious, or paranoid, with no reason

Physical changes:

  • Bloodshot eyes and abnormally sized pupils
  • Sudden weight loss or weight gain
  • Deterioration of physical appearance
  • Unusual smells on breath, body, or clothing
  • Tremors, slurred speech, or impaired coordination

Social changes:

  • Sudden change in friends, favourite hangouts, and hobbies
  • Legal problems related to substance use
  • Unexplained need for money or financial problems
  • Using substances even though it causes problems in relationships

FOR ENQUIRIES INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT:

Marthé Kotze

Programme Manager: Information & Awareness

SA Federation for Mental Health

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