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This article is published as part of a content sharing partnership between Kerkbode and Badisa. Photo: Pexels

Badisa | Drug Awareness Week: Advice for parents on signs and treatment of substance abuse


This year Drug Awareness Week is commemorated from 24 – 30 June 2024. Theresa Rossouw, Manager at Toevlug Rehabilitation Centre (a programme of Badisa*), explains the aim is to create awareness as well as educate the public, especially the youth, about the dangers and consequences of substance abuse. 

In this article, she offers advice and guidance for parents who are worried that their child might be using substances.

Signs of substance abuse

Self-education is the first step to recognising any warning signs in your child’s behaviour. Theresa explains, “Parents and guardians need to know the signs and symptoms of substance abuse themselves, as this will enable them to assist in identifying whether their child is using substances or not. Behavioural and mental problems can also often mimic substance use.” 

She shares some helpful information to guide you through what to do when you suspect that your child is involved in substance abuse:

  • Be on the lookout for these potential red flags

A lingering smell of cigarettes or alcohol on their breath, coupled with unusually erratic behaviour, should raise red flags for parents. The child might be out late at night or over the weekend, offering vague explanations, or their school performance and attendance may suddenly decline. They might abandon after-school activities which they previously enjoyed doing or lose contact with their old friends and replace them with peers who use substances. 

A shift in their friend circle, coupled with missing valuables and money from the house, could also indicate a problem. The child might withdraw from family interactions, become secretive and resort to lying frequently. This can lead to escalating tension within the home, as parents struggle to maintain control and find themselves dealing with their child’s increasingly erratic behaviour. 

  • Start the conversation

It’s never too early to start talking to your child about alcohol and substance abuse. When seeing individuals using substances or witnessing such behaviours in the media,  focus on creating a dialogue that encourages understanding and promotes responsible decision-making. In cases where celebrities are publicly using substances, talk about the potential consequences of their actions, especially the impact of their behaviour on their fans. 

Utilise age-appropriate movies and television series or documentaries that portray the dangers of substance use are also effective tools for initiating these important discussions, and provide a relatable context for children to understand the potential risks.

  • Don’t judge 

Says Theresa, “When addressing sensitive issues such as substance use, parents need to create a safe and non-judgemental atmosphere in the home. When children perceive judgement, they may hesitate to disclose information about their struggles. A non-judgmental atmosphere encourages transparency and opens the door for early intervention which is critical in addressing substance use issues and promoting long-term health and recovery.” 

Addressing your child’s substance abuse

If you know your child is struggling with substance abuse, here’s how you can support them without enabling their behaviour:

  • Don’t ignore the problem, and talk to your child about the incident or your findings to gather all the necessary information. 
  • Seek professional help by consulting a doctor, social worker, or psychologist who can refer you to the most suitable services for your child’s needs.
  • As a parent, you must be ready to make tough decisions. If your child is unwilling to seek help or change their drug-related behaviour, you may need to implement consequences to protect the rest of the family.
  • Support your child and do not abandon your child during this challenging time.
  • Opt for regular, comprehensive treatment or counselling instead of seeking a quick fix. Consistent, long-term support is essential for recovery.

Preventing substance abuse in your children

As the saying goes, prevention is always better than cure. There are quite a few things you can do to prevent substance abuse in your children. 

Demonstrate the behaviours you want your children to follow and be mindful of substance use in your home. Also, create a loving environment with clear rules, as feeling loved reduces the likelihood of seeking validation elsewhere. Teach your children to respect their bodies and encourage participation in positive activities like church-related events. Importantly, maintain open and honest communication about substances and stay informed about relevant community and world events. Lastly, be involved in your child’s life by knowing their friends and social circles, supervising their activities, and providing constructive ways for them to spend their free time.

Where to find help

These helplines are available 24 hours a day:

  • Substance Abuse Helpline (0800 12 13 14)
  • Department of Social Development Substance Abuse Helpline (0800 220 250)
  • South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (SANCA) 011 892 3829 or WhatsApp 076 535 1701
  • Toevlug Rehabilitation Centre (023 342 1162)

Knowledge is power

The Western Cape Government website provides useful tips and resources regarding substance abuse. Also, the National Institutes of Health (NIH)  offers the latest science-based information on substance use. Lesson plans and videos which educate teens about the dangers of substance use are freely available on their website.

SOURCE: Badisa website. *Badisa is a registered NPO which provides social services and residential care to the most vulnerable people in the Western, Northern and Eastern Cape. Visit their website at www.badisa.org.za  to find out more.


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