Workshop explains how families can help addicts who want to quit

The fourth-year University of Cape Town medical students who hosted the workshop, are, from left, Paige Inglis, Tumisang Masilo, Gina Clarke, Marli Davis, Slamaan Moosa and Janet Okoh.
All of the workshop attendees feel they are now better equipped – not just to help those addicts who are close to them – but also the rest of the community.

Seeing how substance abuse can put a burden on the healthcare system, a group of fourth-year University of Cape Town (UCT) medical students hosted a workshop in Heideveld to guide residents on where to get help for those wanting to quit their addiction.

Often substance abuse leads to health challenges or injuries because of violence or accidents as a result of being intoxicated. This was proven even more so when statistics showed the number of trauma cases at hospitals declining significantly when alcohol sales were not permitted as part of lockdown regulations.

One of the students, Gina Clarke, said many of their peers did workshops around Covid-19’s impact on the health system, and her group wanted to investigate the effects of substance abuse on the system.

“Over the past few weeks, we interviewed substance abusers and their families. What we have found is that most of them wanted to quit their addiction, but they didn’t know where to go for help. Drug abusers are usually isolated and blamed for their drug abuse when they end up in hospital,” Gina said.

Fellow student Marli Davis agreed, adding that family members of a drug or alcohol abuser also need to be educated on where to get help.

The students invited home-based carers and neighbourhood watch members to their workshop, with the hope that these community leaders would be able to spread the message far and wide.

Among the advice given for family members wanting to help an addict, include:

  • To have a plan and resources available.
  • To use positive reinforcement; to improve communication (which includes avoiding conversations when intoxicated).
  • To allow consequences, even if they get into trouble with the law.
  • To set small, realistic goals.
  • To remember that it is up to the abuser to quit; and that it is not your fault that they are abusing substances.

Sahada Davids from the Heideveld Neighbourhood Watch said the workshop was helpful, as she is experiencing this currently.

“I am trying to be strong to help someone close to me, but it is tough. However, I was given the tools here today that will help me help others. I am well-known in the community, and often people also approach me for help for their relatives caught up in substance abuse. Now I am better equipped to help them,” she said.

Beryl Ruiters agreed that the two-day workshop was informative. “I volunteer at the VIctim Support Room at Manenberg SAPS, and I come into contact with many drug abusers and their families. I now feel that I can offer a better service and I can refer them to organisations or government institutions that can help them.”

The students cautioned the workshop attendees that the changes in a drug or alcohol abuser won’t happen immediately, but that this should not discourage them from helping.