Drug and alcohol abuse has become an increasingly persistent problem in South Africa. With the current economic climate, a need has been created for people to find an escape from a rather glum reality, which in turn created a market where anyone can make a quick buck.

Once used to be quite compartmentalised along ethnic and regional lines, but with the arrival of the new South Africa, the demographics of this problem has been changed forever. For the drug addict it has become easier to obtain his drugs and with our borders now open it has become increasingly easier for the drug dealer to trade his drugs. South Africa has long been a port for trade and this practice still remains today. For instance, South Africa would trade the drug, cannabis for harder drugs like cocaine and heroin from Europe.

Alcohol consumption is a socially acceptable practice, where “use” can easily turn into “abuse”. Once a person has fallen into a cycle of abuse, Alcohol addiction can be one of the hardest habits to break. In certain social groups, abstinence from alcohol might even be frowned upon and a person might feel ostracised by the group. This often leads to peer-pressure, especially among the younger generation.

In poverty-stricken areas, a sick cycle can be observed where the adults often buy cheap wine in plastic bottles or cartons and since alcohol abuse has a tendency to lead to domestic abuse you will often find the younger family members turning to drugs as a means to cope with a volatile home-life.

When dealing with, the unique social problems of each community need to be addressed. The cure for this epidemic lies within the home. Children should be educated, as they often don’t fully understand the impact drug and alcohol abuse could have on their lives and their futures. Within a community people can also reach where the long arm of the law (or government) can’t – working together they can fight this problem and start making a difference.

Drug Addiction is a steadily escalating problem in South Africa.

This trend began in the nineties, rose in nineteen ninety-three and has been steadily rising ever since.

The reasons for the increase in illicit drug use and addiction in South Africa include the falling real price of many drugs, poverty which increases the street level trade in drugs, family breakdown and an increase in single-parent households.

More recently, drug addiction increased due to availability resulting from increased trafficking of drugs such as cocaine and heroin through South Africa.

The main reasons being:

  1. The decrease in local controls following the collapse of Apartheid
  2. Increased travel to South Africa as a result of increasing tourism and
    trade links.
  3. Increased economic and political migration to South Africa.

Use of drugs such as marijuana, Mandrax and solvents (glue) are more common in less advantaged communities, whereas use of drugs such as cocaine and Ecstasy is more prevalent among persons from middle- and upper-class communities. Drugs such as Ecstasy, LSD, Speed and hashish, are generally used at clubs or parties.

Drug addiction and use appear to vary in the various South African regions.

The highest use of the white pipe combination (marijuana and Mandrax) occurs in the Western Cape while Johannesburg and Durban have the most frequently reported cases of Rohypnol, cocaine and heroin addiction.

South African research has shown that the most common reasons reported for drug use include habit, altered mood states, attempts to cope with personal, social or interpersonal situations, or for enjoyment and recreation.

Drug addiction has long been a serious problem in South Africa. The United States is known as a country with the worst drug-related problems with one of the highest drug-related death rates in the world. We don’t want to go there, the South African drug epidemic must not spiral out of control.

Regardless of the many reasons for the increase in the incidence of drug addiction in South Africa, serious steps need to be taken to combat the situation particularly as the incidence of crime is so closely related to drugs

Where Does Drug Addiction In South Africa Stem From?

In South Africa, as with other countries, drug addiction generally comes from gangs and the desire for money. Even for those who have never been involved in gang activity, their addiction to drugs is often an attempt to be socially acceptable. That is why peer pressure amongst teenager is such a real and present danger.

Drug rehab programs are filled with those who have caved under peer pressure and become part of a group of people who use drugs. But where does the problem stem? In poorer communities, it stems from a need to fit in, often with a gang, by emulating the actions and behaviours of that gang. Everyone wants to be a part of something bigger than themselves, and that is why in Cape Town, teenagers using Tik and smoking chemical substances is so prevalent.

Greed is another factor.

Since those who provide the drugs are charging through the nose for them (no pun intended), to keep making money they must sell more and more, and so they are working to get more and more people addicted every day. For those who enter alcohol and drug treatment centres, the dealers are losing money and so need to work even harder to get more people addicted.

What is being done about this on a governmental level? Well, besides the government’s work in drug addiction treatment centres, and the general policing in drug affected areas, very little is being done. That is why individuals have to enter drug and alcohol recovery on the recommendation of friends and family, rather than as crackdown from higher authorities.

For those who need drug abuse help in jail, those who are not receiving drug treatment while living on the streets and those who are dealing in drugs, the crackdown from the government is not yet harsh enough to inflict any real pain on the suppliers of drugs, and even on the users. Perhaps if we as a nation become more committed to opening up the gates on treatment and recovery than making a stand against the supply, we will be able to assist in the health of our nation, and in making it drug-free country.

Drug And Alcohol Treatment Centres

Western Cape


KwaZulu Natal

The Free State



Northern Cape

North West Province

Eastern Cape