You can help someone who is or may become drug dependent if you are informed and able to identify the signs of possible drug abuse.

Different types of drugs

There is a world of difference between the various kinds of drugs. Just because you might have tried some drugs doesn't mean that you can try others and experience similar effects. Some drugs are made from plants (heroin or cannabis, also known as "dagga") and others from chemicals (ecstasy or LSD). Both kinds of drugs vary a lot in potency. Even drugs that look very similar can affect you very differently. Drugs are often swallowed, smoked, inhaled or injected. The more direct
the path between the drug and your brain, the more potent the effect. When you change the method you use to take the drug, the effects may be unpredictable. It can be like taking a whole new drug.

There are three main types of drugs:

Uppers (caffeine is a mild upper, while cocaine, ecstasy and tik (methamphetamine) are far more powerful uppers)

Uppers make people feel awake and energetic. Uppers can make you very nervous, and too many of these can make you paranoid. Taking them tor too long can wreck your nerves and your body. You can't eat, you can't sleep, and you end up taking a downer just to feel yourself again.

Downers (alcohol, cannabis, heroin and mandrax)

Downers make people feel relaxed. Everyone likes to relax, but chemically relaxed people can't defend themselves. Taking too much of a downer, like heroin, can put critical life functions at risk, like heartbeat and breathing to sleep and cause death - this is known as an overdose.

Hallucinogens (LSD)

Hallucinogens warp your perception of reality, which some people find entertaining. Taking hallucinogens can be like having a very powerful dream, but sometimes this dream can become a nightmare. Bad trips can haunt you for the rest of your life and some people end up longing for the days when reality was their only problem.

Drug Combinations

Sometimes drugs are mixed and sold under new names. Dagga is often mixed with Heroin and sold under different names like Whoonga (Cape Town), Nyope (Pretoria) or Sugars (Durban). The effects of this combination is unpredictable, but it will certainly carry all the risks associated with the use of both drugs: respiratory problems, constipation, craving and severe dependence.

Tik – What are the facts?

Tik is the slang name given to the stimulant drug Methamphet¬amine, which is a much more potent version of its parent drug, Amphetamine. During the period of April 2012 - March 2013, 32% of cases seen at SANCA (South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence) offices in Cape Town were Tik-related.

The most common way of taking the drug is by smoking. This is done with a custom made glass pipe or by heating the crys¬tals inside a light bulb and inhaling the dense odourless smoke. The smoked drug reaches the brain in about six seconds.

Short Term Effects:

The effects vary depending on the amount taken and how the drug was taken. Generally, the stimulatory effects include many readily observable symptoms:

  • Increased wakefulness and alertness.
  • Increased physical activity - jerky movements and fast reflexes.
  • Rapid speech.
  • Irritability, aggression and argumentative.
  • Decreased appetite.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Open, staring eyes with dilated pupils.
  • False sense of confidence and power.
  • Repetitive mannerisms, like shrugging or tugging at shirt buttons.

As the high starts to wear off, the user may experience pronounced negative effects such as irritability, extreme tiredness, anxiety and aggression.

Long Term Effects:

Tolerance to the drug soon develops so the user needs to increase the dosage to experience the same effects. Each time the user smokes the drug, a smaller rush than the initial one is experienced until there is no rush and no high. Some of the long term effects of Methamphetamine include:

  • Violent and aggressive behaviour.
  • Anhedonia (little or no pleasure derived from former enjoyable activities).
  • Tooth decay and sores inside the mouth.
  • Lung disorders.
  • Weight loss and malnutrition.
  • Sleep disturbances.
  • Cardiac problems: inflammation of the heart lining, damaged blood vessels.
  • Psychosis: intense paranoia, suicidal thoughts, delusions.
  • Sores on the face, poor complexion.
  • Marked general physical deterioration.

Signs of possible drug dependency

Physical indicators:

  • Red/blood-shot eyes, visual distortion.
  • Markedly dilated or constricted pupils.
  • Unexplained, repeated vomiting or abdominal pains.
  • Indistinct speech.
  • Excessive perspiration.
  • Delayed reflex action and lack of co-ordination.
  • Disorientation, dizziness, trembling of hands.
  • Regular nosebleeds.
  • General deterioration of health.
  • Inexplicable weight loss.
  • Injection marks I bruising I scabs I sores on arms, legs or private parts.
  • Yellow stains on hands I fingers as a result of smoking dagga.
  • Endless cold symptoms (sore throat, coughing, sniffing).

Behavioural indicators:

  • Long uninterrupted sleeping periods or insomnia.
  • Change in appetite.
  • Aggressive/hostile behaviour.
  • Unaccountable mood swings / personality disturbances.
  • Lack of communication with family.
  • Lying and dishonesty.
  • Guilty behaviour; avoiding eye contact.
  • Disappearance for considerable periods, especially at night; and constant secrecy about whereabouts.
  • Sudden change of friends or becoming loners.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Theft (money, household articles) or abnormal spending.
  • Neglect of personal hygiene.
  • Untidiness, if previously tidy.
  • Impaired work performance, reduced concentration span.
  • Lack of motivation (school, hobbies, friends).
  • Visits to clubs known as places where drugs are used/abused/sold.

What to do if you know someone who is taking drugs

Do not:

  • Become hysterical.
  • Threaten the person physically or emotionally.
  • Promise them rewards if they stop using drugs.
  • Moralise.
  • Punish them.
  • Throw them out of the house.
  • Manipulate them.
  • Play the emotional war game of: How could you do this to us?
  • Believe promises that it wouldn't happen again.
  • Lecture them on the dangers of drugs.
  • Tell the whole world.
  • Blame other people.
  • Try to find out where they are getting drugs from.

Positive action:

  • Try to remain calm.
  • Facilitate and communicate supportiveness.
  • Seek professional help from your doctor, counsellor, spiritual leader, rehabilitation centres, and help lines.
  • Join a support group for parents in the same situation.
  • Talk to someone about how you are feeling (a counsellor/doctor).
  • Read as much as you can about drugs and drug addiction.
  • Stress LOVE and CONCERN tor the person.

Tips for parents:

  • Make time to listen to your child's problems and work through it with him/her.
  • Give clear messages that the use of drugs and alcohol is forbidden.
  • Help your child to deal with peer pressure.
  • Get to know your child's friends and their parents; don't assume the parents of your children's friends have the same rules as you do.
  • Some have different rules and some Monitor your child's whereabouts; if they say they're sleeping at a friend, have the friend's home phone number handy and don't be afraid to use it to check up on them.
  • Supervise teen activities and set an example in the healthy use of leisure time.
  • Maintain an open and honest dialogue with your child.
  • Keep pocket money to a reasonable minimum. Drinking and drugging are expensive habits.
  • Make sure your child's cell phone is on and has air-time so that you can contact him or her, and vice versa.

Help is a phone call away

If you feel your life is out of control or you feel overwhelmed by problems, seek real help from someone who cares. If you have already taken drugs and are scared of a growing dependence or addiction, remember that however much trouble you think you'll be in if you ask for help, you'll be in a lot worse trouble if you don't. No matter how angry or disappointed your parents or a person responsible for you, or a friend may be that you have taken drugs, you can be sure they'd rather help you now than have you wait until it is too late.

SANCA (South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence) is an organisation made up of caring professionals who deal with drug abuse on a daily basis. If you need help, or if you know of someone else who needs help, phone them:

SANCA Alcohol and Drug Help Centres:

Gauteng North

012 542 1121

Gauteng South West

011 854 5988

Gauteng East

016 349 2892


031 202 2241

Eastern Cape
East london

043 7221210

Western Cape
Cape Town

021 945 4080

Northern Cape

053 831 1699

North West

018462 4568

Free State

051 447 7271


015 295 3700


013 752 4376/ 013 755 2710

SANCA - 011 781 6410 or 086 14SANCA


SANCA Website: www.sancanational.org.za
"Rainbow Vice: The drugs and sex industries in the new South Africa" by Ted Leggett. David Philip, 2001