International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking 2020

Written by Yolisa Bomela and Genevieve Burrow

Authors write in their capacity as members of the South African Association of Counselling Psychology, a division of PsySSA.

The World Drug Report 2019 reports that 35 million people worldwide are drug abusers (UNODC, 2019). 26 June was earmarked by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) as the International Day Against Drug Abuse and illicit trafficking (South African Government, 2020). Similar to the United Nations ’s (UN) awareness campaign to educate the public about COVID-19 , this year’s theme “Better Knowledge for Better Care”, is aimed at dispelling misinformation about substance abuse to increase public knowledge about this global crisis, creating international cooperation to prevent negative effects on health, governance and safety (United National Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC, 2020).

The importance of public awareness of substance abuse facilitates the transition from exclusivity, blaming and shaming, to accepting that addiction is a disease that requires inclusivity and treatment. Public awareness may be created through the following:

  • Sharing information about drug abuse to afford members of the public a functional understanding of the common issues about drugs and the relationship between drug use and other health challenges, including mental health, hypertension and respiratory diseases.
  • Education programmes aimed at ending public stigma that is inherent in addiction. Many addicts feel too ashamed to ask for help because of community outcasting and shunning.
  • Parents may use the day to listen to their children if they demonstrate signs of addictive behaviour, creating an understanding for the causes of drug abuse.
  • Communities can come together to “talk and listen” to stories of drug abuse to initiate community projects.

A common myth is that addiction is a choice and character flaw, however, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders 5th Edition (DSM-5) lists addiction as a disease (DSM-5, 2013).  Risk factors include but are not limited to, genetic predisposition, psychological factors such as stress, depression, anxiety and psychiatric conditions, environmental factors such as physical, sexual and emotional abuse, family history and exposure to substance abuse by family and friends (Center on Addcition, 2017).                                                                                                       

The DSM-5 describes substance abuse as “maladaptive behavioural or psychological changes” leading to clinically significant impairment or distress that manifests in various ways (DSM-5, 2013):

  • Failure to fulfil obligations at work, school or home.
  • Recurrent hazardous behaviour such as driving an or operating a machine when whilst impaired.
  • Recurrent legal problems.
  • Continued substance use despite persistent social or interpersonal problems.

    The following useful numbers may be used to reach out for help:

    • Alcoholics Anonymous South Africa national helpline: 0861 435 722
    • Al-Anon (assistance and support for loved ones of substance abusers): 083 900 6962
    • Department of Social Development Substance Abuse Line 24hr helpline: 0800 12 13 14 or SMS 32312
    • LifeLine national counselling line: 0861 322 322
    • South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (SANCA) national toll-free helpline: 0800 12 13 14 or SMS 32312
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