When it comes to drug and alcohol abuse some parents feel out of their depth. That is understandable – there is a lot of confusing and scary information out there. There are more addictive substances available, legal and illegal, than ever before and every young person is at risk.
What every parent needs to know
By the time they finish high school, every teenager will have been exposed to drugs in one form or another, irrespective of where they come from, what school they go to or how bright they are. You can help them to avoid the horrors of addiction by being informed.
This guide is designed to empower you by giving you the basic facts to assist well-informed, calm and helpful discussion with your family. We can't provide hard and fast rules, as so much depends on the child, their state of mind and the drugs they are taking and in what amounts, but we can give you information.
Over 70% of all crime and violence is drug- or alcohol-related.
95% of all trauma patients in hospitals are there because of drugs or alcohol.
Address these problems and you address many others too!
There are many different drugs. This website will give you the key points about each one. Many young people do experiment with drugs and often if a parent finds out they panic unnecessarily. This throws the whole family into turmoil trying to find out what they can do.
This website provides useful information on how to cope with such situations and is based on health concerns rather than legal or other issues. No one becomes addicted overnight, it is a process – experimentation, regular use, abuse, addiction. If you have the slightest suspicion that your child may be using drugs please do not ignore it – get help from one of the resources at the bottom of this page.
DRUGS – The Reality
Many South Africans, particularly young people, experiment with both legal and illegal drugs. Most people who take drugs are ordinary people who go to school, work and run homes and families.
How parents can help
There is the possibility that your child will be offered drugs, both legal and illegal. You can influence your child's decision whether to accept or not, but no matter how perfect your parenting, you cannot guarantee that your child will not experiment. By being supportive and giving your child accurate information certainly helps them to make informed decisions. Most of their information comes from friends or "urban legend" which is often wrong. So be correctly informed yourself, that way you can pass on accurate information.
It is easy for a young person to see if you are being hypocritical, so do check your own behaviour. If you are smoking cigarettes, abusing alcohol or taking other drugs it's pretty pointless to "lecture" them about drug abuse - you loose all credibility.
- Give accurate information about drugs – it helps your child to make informed choices.
- Help them to understand that consequences, both good and bad, follow choices and encourage them to take responsibility for their choices.
- Let them know that we all make mistakes it's part of growing up and being human.
- Do not be hypocritical
- Make sure the lines of communications are always open
- Talk about drugs and alcohol in an honest, relaxed and open way.
- Negotiate and involve your child in setting guidelines for behaviour such as curfews.
What to do if you think your child is using drugs
Don't panic. Stay calm and discuss the situation without fighting. Listen to what your child is saying without being judgmental, if what they are saying concerns you express this honestly and without anger or tears. Explain why you are worried and what your concerns are and tell them how you feel. Negotiate guidelines and let your child be part of the process, by being part of these they are more likely to stick to them. Keep your word, for example if you have told them the consequences for certain actions, make sure those consequences are carried out. Be firm, consistent and caring, but show that using drugs is an unacceptable practice and that you disapprove.
- Do support your child, but don't enable them to carry on with unacceptable behaviour. This is vital no matter what the circumstances
- Do understand that your child may need more help than you are able to give.
- Do contact a professional to help you – there is a list at the end of this document
- Do look after yourself and other family members – you all need support too
- Do distinguish between the child and the drugs – you love them but not the drug or the behaviour it causes
- Do let your child take responsibility for his or her own actions
- Don't blame yourself
- Don't tell lies for your child to school, family and friends
- Don't, either directly or indirectly, fund their drug habit by giving them money, paying their bills etc.
- Don't expect the situation to go away if you ignore it
- Don't believe everything you're told
- Don't make threats or promises which you can't carry out
Why do young people take drugs?
There is no easy answer to that; any number of reasons could include:
- It feels good to get "stoned"
- It's fashionable and the thing to do
- Curiosity, some people just want to try a new experience
- The "thrill" of doing something different
- An escape from problems at home or at school
- A way to acquire confidence and self esteem
- Parental disapproval
- It's there so why not try it? Drugs are usually bought from friends, in clubs and pubs and even on the street
- It's illegal and therefore may seem exciting
- Pressure from friends
- Everyone does it!
How do you know if your child is using drugs?
Here are some signs to look out for:
- Sudden mood swings. Sullen and moody to happy and alert.
- Loss off appetite. A change in eating patterns like sudden bingeing on sweets
- Unusual aggression or apathy
- Change of friends
- Loss of interest in hobbies, sport and school
- Becoming secretive, furtive behaviour and lying
- Change in sleeping patterns and bouts of drowsiness
- Unexplained loss of possessions and money
- Unusual smells or stains on the body, clothes and around the house
- Disappearance of medicines or alcohol
- Change in appearance. Less interest in personal hygiene. Weight loss or gain
- Drug related paraphernalia. Posters, clothes and jewelry
Please remember that some of these symptoms could be confused with those of normal adolescence. So don't over-react but don't allow your reality to be challenged either. It is important not to jump to the wrong conclusions. If you do find that your child is using drugs don't panic there are a list of numbers at the back of this booklet where you can get help. There are organisations that can help you with a structured intervention. This is a controlled crisis where all the meaningful people in their lives confront them, in a caring and concerned way, with the desperate reality of their situation, instead of waiting for the addict/alcoholic to reach a "rock bottom".
Screening/testing shouldn't be the first point of intervention – communication should – however, don't be afraid to screen your child. Drug screening can now be done at home. It may not win you any popularity contests but it could avert a tragedy. Home tests are available from your pharmacy and are simple and relatively inexpensive. Be sure to buy one that tests for a variety of substances as often more than one substance is being abused.
Doctors and pathologists can also test either urine or blood.
If you do choose this method ask them to test for a variety of substances such as: opiates, methamphetamine, LSD, dagga, cocaine, amphetamine and mandrax.
What to do in an emergency
If the worst happens and you find your child drowsy, unconscious or having a fit it is vitally important that you know what to do. It could save their life. Whatever you do don't panic.
- Make sure they get plenty of air
- Turn them on their side
- Don't leave them alone - they may be sick and inhale the vomit
- Dial the emergency services and ask for an ambulance
- Collect anything you think may have been used - tablets, powders etc. - and give it to the paramedics
Tobacco is the only legally available substance which, when used exactly as intended, kills you. It is one of the most harmful drugs, legal or illegal, and it is the most abused. Some say that smoking tobacco is equal to or perhaps more addictive than heroin. Tobacco is usually the first drug young people try. It causes lung cancer, emphysema, heart disease and many other fatal conditions. Although legal it is becoming more and more socially unacceptable and South Africa has now brought in fairly stringent tobacco laws.
Snuff is tobacco powder which people put up their noses, it makes them sneeze and get a "head rush". This is just as addictive as cigarettes and can cause all the usual illnesses associated with smoking, except it also damages the septum - the inside of the nose.
Legalities: It's illegal to buy or smoke cigarettes under the age of 16. The new tobacco laws also make it illegal to smoke in public places and if you are caught this can result in a heavy fine.
Alcohol is part of our culture - champagne to celebrate, brandy for shock, a hot toddy for flu etc. Alcohol causes a huge amount of harm and physical damage in our society, yet it is socially acceptable and freely available. Most of our family violence is caused through alcohol related incidents, as are traffic accidents and South Africa (particularly the Western Cape) has the highest incidence in the world of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome - we are 20 times higher than the worst statistics in the world!
Binge drinking is common amongst young people and is cause for great concern because of the accompanying high-risk behaviours, such as unsafe sex, violence, traffic accidents, health problems and the possibility of dependence.
Physical signs: Smell of alcohol on breath, disorientation, loss of motor skills, lack of coordination
Withdrawal: These can be dangerous and in some cases life threatening. Consult a doctor or one of the numbers at the back of this booklet.
Legalities: It's illegal to buy or drink alcohol under the age of 18. Places that serve alcohol to people under age can be heavily fined - and can even lose their business license.
Many people abuse prescription drugs and pharmaceuticals such as Valium, Rohypnol, painkillers, sleeping tablets, tranquilizers and slimming tablets. Taking these substances without medical supervision can be harmful, not only because some are addictive but also, when they are mixed with other chemicals such as alcohol, speed, cocaine etc., they become dangerous.
Over the counter medication (OTC):
Codeine: an opiate and therefor addictive, is found in many cough mixtures and painkillers available on pharmacy shelves. South Africa is one of the few countries which allows the over the counter sale of codeine.
Pseudo-ephedrine: a stimulant found in slimming preparations and pills, some cough mixtures and sinus medication, is becoming more and more popular with our youth who are into the "rave" culture. It is a legal form of "speed" and is highly addictive.
Physical signs: Disturbed sleeping patterns, aggression, and hyperactivity. Disappearance of medicines from medicine cabinet.
Withdrawal: These vary depending on the drug used. They can be dangerous, and in some cases life threatening, consult one of the numbers at the back of this booklet.
Paraphernalia: Empty bottles (cough & slimming mixture etc), cards and bottles of tablets.
Legalities: Most of these substances are legal, but pharmacies are meant to keep a register of all the people who buy these drugs and pass them on to the authorities.
It is illegal to possess or sell Rohypnol, Valium, etc. without a valid prescription
Street names: speed, uppers, sulphate, meth and crystal meth
Appearance: Speed comes mainly as a white or greyish white powder that is usually sniffed ("schnarfed" or "snorted"), sometimes eaten or put in drinks and less often injected. Tablets are swallowed.
Amphetamines belong to a group of drugs called psycho-stimulants that speed up messages going to and from the brain to the body. Most of these are manufactured in illegal, unhygienic back yard laboratories and sold illegally. Due to contaminated ingredients and the unknown strength of street amphetamines they are terribly dangerous, as well as addictive, and some users have overdosed and died.
Physical signs: Amphetamines can cause very rapid and irregular heartbeat, can increase breathing and heart rates, raise blood pressure and dilate pupils. As higher and higher doses are taken users often feel a sense of superiority and power; they can become aggressive and potentially violent.
Withdrawal: Irritability, fatigue, severe depression, aggression and sleeplessness.
Paraphernalia: Old-fashioned razor blades, straws, rolled up notes, traces of white powder on shiny or flat surfaces.
Legalities: It's illegal to possess or use amphetamines.
Street names: Tik, meth, crank, glass, speed, crystal, ice, batu, chalk, shabu, or zip
Appearance: Methamphetamines are synthetic amphetamines or stimulants that are produced and sold illegally in pill form, capsules, powder and chunks. An amphetamine is a chemical that has stimulant properties similar to adrenaline. Like adrenaline, methamphetamines stimulate the central nervous system, and are extremely addictive.
Withdrawal: After the effects of meth wears off, it can cause severe withdrawal that is more intense and longer lasting than both speed and cocaine.
Paraphernalia: Light bulbs will go missing.
Legalities: It's illegal to possess or use methamphetamines.
Street Names: Petrol, glue, benzene, household products, correction fluid and paint thinners, lighter fuel, paint.
Appearance: Aerosol cans etc.
Some drugs turn to gas in air and when they are inhaled can cause the user to feel "high" - these are inhalants. The general term is glue sniffing. Many household and other easily available products are used. Most effects last for about an hour and after the initial high the drug slows down the central nervous system. Using many times may make users pass out, get bad cramps and not know what's going on. Sometimes users can die - 6 children die each month in the UK as a result of solvent abuse - as the drug in some of these products can cause heart failure. Another risk is suffocating after passing out in the plastic bag. Inhalants are most commonly used by young people in their first few years in secondary or high school although the feeling is often so unpleasant they rarely use them more than once or twice.
Physical signs: Slurred speech, confusion, disorientation, staggering.
Paraphernalia: Empty cans, plastic bags, empty glue bottles & cans
Legalities: Most of these substances are legal, but you can get into trouble with the police because of some of the behaviours associated with their use.
Street names: Dagga, zol, ganja, green, Swazi, Durban poison, hash, joint, dope, majat, weed, herb, skunk, waccy baccy, pot, Malawi cob.
Appearance: Dried leaves or resinous dark brown blocks.
Cannabis or marijuana is the most commonly used illegal substance. Marijuana (dagga) is the dried leaves of the cannabis sativa plant, which is indigenous to certain parts of South Africa. Hashish is becoming more and more common and is the resin of the plant ranging in colour from light to very dark brown. This is much stronger than marijuana (dagga). The drug is smoked in a "joint" when rolled with tobacco or smoked in bottleneck or water pipes (bongs). Cannabis can be a stimulant or depressant, it just depends on the individual, their mood and surroundings. Because it is the most used illegal drug further information -"Dagga… fact & fiction"- follows.
Physical signs: Bloodshot eyes, giggling, loss of concentration, daydreaming, nicotine stains on hands, 'munchies' - especially for sweet things, smell of burning on clothes in room etc.
Withdrawal: Irritability, sleeplessness, and restlessness
Paraphernalia: Cigarette papers, seeds, stalks, broken off cigarettes, pipes (bottlenecks, chillums etc), sieve (for cleaning the seeds & stalks), small blocks of resin in cling film, eyedrops, joss sticks & other air fresheners.
Legalities: It's illegal to possess or use dagga. If you are busted it just depends on how the magistrate feels and how much you have on you. The most important thing is you can end up with a criminal record that stays with you for life and can affect your future career or travelling.
Street names: Acid, A, LSD, microdots, candy, magic mushrooms, 'shrooms, trips.
Appearance: Tiny squares of paper with pictures. Dried or fresh mushrooms.
Hallucinogens or psychedelics are any mind-altering drug that distorts the users perception of reality. They may have depressant effect especially when the user is "coming down" from a "trip". LSD is the best known of the hallucinogens and is one of the most potent mind altering chemicals. The users perceptions of time, space, sight, sound, touch, smell and taste can be affected. It very difficult to describe the experience - it depends on mood, environment, personality, quality etc. the experience can be pleasant, OK, weird and really terrifying. Personality changes can be permanent.
Physical signs: Confusion, disorientation, dilated pupils, minute attention to detail.
Withdrawal: None. Although psychological dependence can occur and users can experience "flashbacks" days, months and sometimes years later.
Legalities: It's illegal to possess, sell and use LSD, magic mushrooms and other hallucinogenics.
A collection of LSD Blotter Papers confiscated by police in the USA
Street names: E, pills, names change constantly as new pills come on the market.
Ecstasy is one of the new breed of Designer Drugs. The active ingredient is MDMA (Methylenedioxymethamphetamine) which produces a feeling of tranquillity, increased confidence and feeling "at one" with the world and other people, this is why it's known as the love drug. Many people take Ecstasy at Dance or Rave parties. Long-term effects are not really known but there is some suggestion that it may cause damage to some brain cells.
Physical signs: Confusion, disorientation, dry mouth and throat, teeth clenching, nausea and loss of appetite, anxiety and paranoia.
Withdrawal: The next day a severe "hangover" may leave the user feeling burnt out and depressed, as well as aching not thinking straight, sleep problems and irritability.
Legalities: It's illegal to possess, sell and use E.
Other Designer Drugs:
Appearance: Red or yellow tablets or capsules
Effects: Similar effects to LSD but the capsule can be opened and "snorted".
Appearance: White crystals
Effects: Similar to crystal meth - see amphetamine
Smoked on tinfoil through a straw - "chased".
GHB - liquid ecstasy
Appearance: Colourless odourless liquid with a slightly salty taste. Usually sold in small bottles or by the capful. Usually taken by mouth but as the concentration of the liquid is unknown this is extremely dangerous.
Effects: A "downer" in its effect unlike the real ecstasy, GHB produces a feeling a little like alcohol. There are some nasty side effects such as nausea, vomiting, muscle spasms, disorientation and even fits or collapse.
Legalities: It's illegal to possess, sell and use all of these.
Street names: H, smack, china white, brown, brown sugar, junk, gear.
Appearance: Powder ranging in colour from white to brown
Dangerous, dangerous stuff which has suddenly made an appearance in South Africa over the last four years. A large proportion of people presenting for treatment are adolescents and young adults from white middle and upper class backgrounds. Heroin is derived from the opium poppy and, no matter how it is used, is physically addictive. Initially users say they experience feeling warm, loved and safe, accompanied by a "rush" that lasts for 6 - 10 hours. This feeling soon disappears and users need more and more just to feel normal and function.
Heroin is rarely pure, and some recently analysed in Cape Town contained benzodiazapene and phenobarbitol, and because the user does not know the strength or Top, overdose is a real risk. Heroin is an expensive drug and is therefore a major reason for many crimes as the addict needs more and more to support their "habit". In South Africa most people "chase" (smoke on tinfoil with a straw) heroin but will often end up 'mainlining.' Withdrawals can be terrifying and fear of them keeps the addict using. Life becomes an endless circle of finding money, scoring and using.
Physical signs: Drowsiness, loss of co-ordination in speech and actions, difficult to focus, pupils small, dry mouth, constipation, menstrual irregularity and loss of sex drive.
Withdrawal: Vomiting and nausea, muscle cramps, hot and cold flushes, fear, sleeplessness, extreme anxiety, physical and mental cravings.
Paraphernalia: Tinfoil, straws, rolled up notes, blackened teaspoons, needles and syringes, light brown or white powder.
Legalities: It's illegal to possess, sell and use heroin. Often heroin users commit crimes to get money for their drug and end up in jail, where there is no help with withdrawals etc.
Powder: coke, charlie, snow, schnarff
Crack: rocks, klippe
Appearance: Cocaine usually comes as a white powder.
Rocks (crack) vary in size but are a soapy like substance usually about half the size of a fingernail.
Cocaine mainly comes in white powder called cocaine hydrochloride and is usually "snorted" in this form. When it is "cooked" with baking powder or bicarbonate of soda it forms "rocks", this is crack and is smoked through small glass or metal pipes. Effects of cocaine, which can last for minutes or hours, happen very quickly - especially with crack, it is instant - and can include feelings of wellbeing, increased heart rate, agitation, sexual stimulation, alertness and energy, unpredictability and aggressive behaviour. The inside of the nose gets eaten away when cocaine is regularly inhaled through the nose.
Cocaine is highly addictive and like other stimulants reduces hunger, thirst and other natural needs such as rest, food and water.
Crack produces an addiction so intense that the user is never satisfied, and often ends up so "wired" that they have to use another drug, such as heroin, mandrax or rohypnol, to get come down sufficiently so they can take more. Violence and crime always accompany crack, as addicts can spend thousands of rands a day.
Physical signs: Mood swings, elation to depression, insomnia, unusual energy, weight loss, enlarged pupils, loss of appetite, dry mouth, aggression, paranoia, unpredictability
Withdrawal: Depression, exhaustion, paranoia, intense cravings
Paraphernalia: Old-fashioned razor blades, straws, rolled up notes, traces of white powder on shiny or flat surfaces. Glass, copper or aluminum pipes, gauze (maybe from a water tap), insulation tape and lots and lots of lighters.
Legalities: It's illegal to possess, sell and use crack and cocaine. These are such expensive drugs that users often have no choice but to commit crimes to get money - so jail is a real possibility
Street names: Buttons, pille, creams, germans, humble pies, foilies, helicopters, white stars, titanics, Bassons (after the government employee who manufactured them!)
Appearance: Tablets ranging in size from a usual small tablet to the size of a dog pellet, and ranging in colour from white through pink, blue, speckled brown and black.
Mandrax was originally manufactured as a sleeping tablet but was banned in the 70's because thousands of people were addicted to it, and the medical profession didn't know what to do.
The tablets are mixed with dagga and smoked in a bottleneck pipe. The mandrax and dagga are bought together and called an "outfit". It is not really known anywhere else in the world except India and Pakistan. The initial "rush" lasts for a few minutes and causes the user to "kap om or ert" (fall over and be out cold). This is followed by a few hours of disorientation being "out of it" including being "mif" and suffering from "button siekte" when users stagger, dribble, spit and vomit.
Physical signs: Stains on hands, chronic cough, sweet sickly smell, speech and motor skills impaired.
Paraphernalia: Bottleneck pipe, dagga and tablets
Legalities: It's illegal to possess, sell and use mandrax - again people often steal to get money for their drug and end up in jail, where there is no help with withdrawals etc.
Appearance: Tablets and ampoules (for injecting)
Steroids can stunt growth in young people and cause liver damage in any age group. Heavy regular use in men can cause reduced sex drive, lowered sperm count, reduction in the size of testicles, permanent erections (which is not as much fun as it sounds!), and in extreme cases, growth of breasts. In women heavy regular use can result in facial and body hair growth, a reduction in the size of breasts and a deepening voice. These effects may be irreversible even after steroid use has stopped.
If the steroids are injected then shared needles carry the risk of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis
Legalities: It's illegal to possess, sell and use most anabolic steroids. Sometimes a doctor prescribes them for cancer or AIDS patients - then they are legal.
Dagga – Facts & Fiction
Dagga can have different effects on different people, ranging from very little to toxic psychosis. First time users can experience a strong "rush" and others say they feel nothing.
The "high" is caused by a chemical called THC and can last for several hours. Some users get a feelings of wellbeing and self-confidence, some people have altered perceptions of time and space and some experience confusion, paranoia, panic and anxiety. Because of altered perceptions it is dangerous to drive or work machinery whilst "stoned".
Long term dagga use can have a negative effect on health such as:
- Respiratory diseases such as bronchitis or cancers commonly associated with smokers
- Some loss of memory and short term recall
- Some loss of mental capacity
- Can reduce sperm count
- It can induce psychosis, especially for adolescents
- It's natural so it doesn't harm you
- It's not habit forming
- It has contraceptive properties
- It's legal
For some people cannabis use is pleasant, for others there are nasty side effects and there ARE negative health effects which result from continued use.
If you use drugs, this might help
- No matter how much or how little you use, there is always a choice
- You may be powerless over the drug, but you can find the power to not use the drug.
- There is nonjudgmental help available
- Remember, it doesn't start off as a problem…
- Half of us have an alcoholic/addict in our immediate circle of family, friends, neighbours, colleagues etc.
- Alcoholism / addiction is a disease of denial. Nobody wants to admit it – especially the person with the problem.
- Withdrawal from any drug can be dangerous – seek professional advice if you or anyone in your family has a problem. Don't try to tackle it alone – get help.
Initial copy: © Sarah Fisher, Bridges 1999-2003
Updated and expanded by CapeInfo