Drug addiction
If a person suspects that he or she or his loved one has a drug addiction, it is important to remember that the condition is treatable and call in the professional as soon as possible.


What is Drug Addiction?

Drug dependence (sometimes called drug addiction) is diagnosed when the user feels he or she needs to use drugs to function normally, despite the personal, physical and interpersonal problems caused by them. When this drug / s is unavailable, the person experiences withdrawal symptoms. Persistent use usually results in physical tolerance, which causes more and more use to get the same effect.

Drug dependence can be diagnosed with or without physical dependence. Research shows that those who started drug use early (14 years and younger) are likely to develop serious drug use problems early on. This applies to all forms of substance abuse, but specifically to alcohol.



The following symptoms are indicative, based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM – 5), which is widely accepted as the most authoritative source worldwide. Please note Please note that an official diagnosis may only be made by a qualified person:

To be diagnosable, the following symptoms must occur:

  1. Dependency: Three or more of the following symptoms within a 12 month period:
    1. Tolerance - increase in use of the drug, with a gradual reduction of the effect.
    2. Physical withdrawal symptoms, and short-term disappearance of the symptoms once the drug is used.
    3. The drug is used to a greater extent and for longer periods than initially planned.
    4. Constant need or unsuccessful attempts to stop drug use.
    5. A great deal of time and energy is spent on obtaining, using and recovering the drug from withdrawal symptoms.
    6. Important social and work commitments and leisure activities are reduced or abandoned.
    7. Regular use, despite the awareness of its dangers.
  2. Abuse: One or more of the following symptoms within a 12 month period:
    1. Persistent use, leading to the inability to perform important tasks at work, school or home.
    2. Persistent use in potentially dangerous situations (eg car driving).
    3. Repeated clashes with the law due to drug use.
    4. Continuous use despite social or interpersonal problems caused by the use.



  1. Why is treatment needed for drug addiction?
    Drug addiction destroys physical and brain structures and can lead to serious physical conditions or even death. It is therefore extremely important to undergo treatment. Rehabilitation works best in a clinic, either privately run or supported by the state (eg Claro Clinic).
  2. Who can diagnose me or a loved one?
    Because drug addiction is so complex, we would recommend that you be tested and diagnosed only by a general practitioner, clinical psychologist or psychiatrist. They are trained to treat various addictions.
  3. What role does a psychologist play in my treatment?
    A psychologist can diagnose drug addiction and treat psychotherapeutically in conjunction with other medical professionals. This means he or she can help you understand what your diagnosis is, how to live with it, and how to apply a strategy that can lead to behavioral change. A psychologist in South Africa may not prescribe medication and usually works with a psychiatrist in a team.



If a loved one or friend is diagnosed with addiction, your support and motivation can play a very important role in accepting and managing their diagnosis. Here are guidelines on how to assist an individual:

  1. Be patient. People who are under the onslaught of an addiction do not always have the ability to say how they feel or what they are experiencing. Give them a chance to get used to the diagnosis first, and gradually work out an actual plan to manage their lives in the future.
  2. Be informed about addiction. The more you and your loved one, family member or colleague know about the disease, the more you can work together on a plan to support the person and manage the disease.
  3. Ask what your loved one expects of you. One can easily think you know what is best for another person, but the easiest is to ask how he or she wants you to act
  4. Listen to him or her and do not constantly give advice or try to reason with logic. It is important that the person takes responsibility for the addiction and the effect it will have on his or her life. When someone makes choices on behalf of someone else, it may cause the person to become dependent on you and then not want to fight the addiction yourself. It is not your addiction, but your loved one's. Listening is a wonderful way to support your loved one.
  5. Get to know the signs and symptoms so you can act early. Everyone's symptoms of addiction do not manifest in the same way, so it is very important to understand how the person manifests in your life's symptoms. For example, when your loved one's mood suddenly changes, you can start taking measures as long as possible.
  6. Participate in physical activities with the individual. It is not a cliché that regular exercise helps people with psychological diagnoses. Exercise relieves tension and anxiety, and aids in the production of low-mood transmitters. So regular exercise is actually a successful antidepressant.
  7. Encourage a healthy eating and sleeping pattern. An established routine not only helps the person manage their addiction, but also helps to see signs / symptoms early.
  8. Take a good look at yourself! Remember, a person with an addiction can also negatively impact you by involving you in their addiction. Living with a person treated for addiction can feel frustrating, exhausting and sometimes chaotic. Make time for yourself too.


If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health issues, we suggest the following options:
  1. call your GP (if available);
  2. go to your nearest hospital emergency room;
  3. call one of the following emergency numbers: SADAG (the South African Depression and Anxiety Group) 24-hour helpline: 0800 456 789 or suicide crisis line: 0800 567 567; or
  4. contact Wie is ek?