Substance use disorder

Excessive drug and alcohol use, also called substance use disorder, refers to the repeated and ongoing usage of legal and illegal substances such as tobacco, alcohol, dagga, and other drugs.

Adolescence and young adulthood is a time when many people experiment with alcohol and other substances. But young people often do not realise the dangers that these substances hold for their health.

General symptoms of substance use disorder to look out for:

Feeling you have to use the drug regularly — daily or even multiple times a day

Having intense urges for the drug that make it hard to focus on anything else

Over time, needing to take more of the drug to get the same effect

Spending money on the drug, even if you can’t afford it

Continuing to use the drug, even though you know it’s causing problems in your life or for your wellbeing

Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you attempt to stop taking the drug

Substance use disorder and addiction have many potential negative physical and mental health effects for the users, such as:

Increased risk of injury and death due to violence or accidents

Increased chances of engaging in sexual behaviour with high risk of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases

Increased risk for the development of mental disorders and suicidal behaviour

With students, substance use disorder has also been linked to declining grades, high absenteeism and school dropouts, as well as involvement in crime and gang-related activities.

Substance use in students

Substance use disorder may be common among young people suffering from mental health conditions. Young people experiencing anxiety, depression, or other mental illnesses may turn to drugs or alcohol to find temporary comfort.

These substances are also sometimes used as a coping mechanism for those enduring a great deal of stress or hardship, such as experiencing troubles at home or at school, or losing a loved one.

Using drugs or alcohol to deal with difficult feelings or symptoms of mental illness is called ‘self-medication’. However, it can make existing mental health problems worse.

Treatment of substance use disorder

With the right treatment and support, substance use disorder and addiction can be treated. Based on your individual needs and the substance/s involved, the treatment process may be comprised of some or all of the following aspects:



Healthy routine


Evaluation and treatment

If you or someone you know is affected by substance use disorder or addiction, seek the help of a licensed medical professional, or contact the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (SANCA).

SANCA Toll Free Number: 086 14 72622 or whatsapp 076 535 1701. Or visit their website here.

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