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Addiction in South Africa

addiction in south africa

the new epidemic

When it comes to  assessing the extent of the problem of addiction in South Africa, there are many sources of information to consider. Our country is notoriously disparate and economically divided, and this is clearly reflected in these addiction statistics. If you have a child, or a loved one, suffering from addiction, facing these figures can be daunting and overwhelming. Subsequently, Journey Recovery & Wellness Centre has compiled the most important information around addiction to give you a picture of South Africa’s most dangerous epidemic.

On 25 June 2020, Minister of Social Development Lindiwe Zulu launched the latest iteration of the National Drug Master Plan (2019−2024), which has been cited as ‘the blueprint for combating the scourge of alcohol and substance abuse which has reached epidemic proportions in South Africa.’1 The goal of the plan is to prevent drug use before it starts, implement early intervention to ensure substance users receive treatment and rehabilitation services, and reducing the demand for illicit drugs.

addiction statistics in south africa

When looking at the current addiction statistics in South Africa, it becomes clear that there is an abundance of inaccurate data and conflicting information. These narratives are perpetuated by commercial addiction recovery centres, government centres and the general process of protecting profit margins in, and reducing taxes on, the alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical industries.

There is a lack of formal statistics from the anonymous recovery communities such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Cocaine Anonymous (CA). In order to uphold one of their key principals, anonymity, the groups don’t keep or share data on members’ addiction or recovery groups, group sizes or relapse rates. Since these communities offer free support and assistance for those struggling with addictions, they are hugely popular in South Africa where the socio-economic outlook of our country is bleak. Thus, an accurate picture of a large part of the population that suffers from addiction is immediately obscured. This also makes it difficult to determine the efficacy of these communities and their overall impact on the problem of addiction in South Africa.

At Journey, we acknowledge the difficulties associated with collecting, interpreting and reporting on statistics around addiction in South Africa. As such, we are committed to providing you with an objective and current snapshot of this pertinent issue in our country.  In order to do this, we focus on reliable statistics to measure the true extent of addiction in South Africa. It is important that we have proper data to inform our clients about the extent of this disease and how important it is to provide rehabilitation.

The Central Drug Authority (CDA) of South Africa was established by the Prevention and Treatment of Drug Dependency Amendment Act 1999.2 The CDA is a multi-disciplinary body appointed by the Minister of Social Development. It is comprised of members from various governmental departments and as such it aims to 

Mr. David Bayever from the government drug control organisation, known as the CDA, is quoted saying “The drug problem in South Africa remains very serious with drug usage being twice the world norm in most cases…and we are only dealing with what we know about…this is only the tip of the iceberg,”. Bayever says that at least 15% of South Africans have a drug problem; this number however is expected to rise. While some drugs are produced directly in South Africa, it is also a major transshipment hub for importing and exporting them.

This statistic is confirmed by the South Africa’s Central Drug Authority: at least 15 percent of South Africans are said to have a drug problem.

In South Africa 80% of male youth deaths are alcohol-related and drug consumption is estimated to be twice the world norm. In 2016, the chairperson of the South African Medical Association, Dr Mzukisi Grootboom, said South Africa has the highest incidence of foetal alcohol syndrome in the world.

In a South African context, cannabis and alcohol are the substances most likely to be abused.

Males over the age of 20 are the biggest abusers of alcohol while male youths are the main abusers of cannabis. Cannabis is reported as the primary drug of abuse by the majority of patients who are younger than 20 years old. Alcohol is the dominant substance of abuse in the Eastern Cape, Free State, Northern Cape and South west.

It’s estimated that up to 60% of crimes committed involve the use of substances and 80% of male youth deaths are alcohol-related. South Africa also has a rate of foetal alcohol syndrome which is 5 times that of the US.