‘The drugs have messed up my life’ – recovering addicts

Tracy-Lee Viljoen and Mark Klink are on a journey to recovery after spending years on drugs.

Tracy-Lee Viljoen and Mark Klink are on a journey to recovery after spending years on drugs.

  • Recovering drug addicts say it is a challenge to seek help. 
  • The South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (SANCA) says it has seen an increase in drug use among young people. 
  • SANCA said since 2020, 22 816 drug addicts have sought their services.

As part of national drug awareness week, recovering addicts have encouraged people struggling with drug and alcohol abuse to not let their shame prohibit them from seeking help.

The latest Phase 50 report compiled by the South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use showed that in the Western Cape, the primary substances of use reported by 36 specialist treatment centres between January and June 2021 were “tik” (35%), dagga (24%), alcohol (18%) and heroin (7%).  Together they made up 84% of all admissions.

Overall, 2 433 people were treated across all 36 treatment centres in the first half of 2021.

“Let us not discriminate or stigmatise those who suffer from a substance use disorder (SUD). Instead, let us all take responsibility to help prevent abuse in the first place and enable those who are struggling around us to overcome addiction and sustain their recovery,” said Western Cape Social Development MEC Sharna Fernandez.

During the 2021-2022 financial year, 9 199 people accessed substance abuse prevention and treatment services offered by the department and its partners.

A recovering addict, Tracy-Lee Viljoen, 31, has been on drugs for the past 15 years and recently joined the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (SANCA).

“It’s been very hard trying to stop. I started experimenting with drugs since I was 16-years-old. I had gone to a party and got introduced to crystal meth then. I lacked nothing back in the day, I’d actually go as far as saying I was a very spoiled child, but I lacked love from my parents and the validation I needed from them,” said Viljoen.

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The mother-of-two said getting off crystal meth, commonly known as “tik” in South Africa, had been “incredibly difficult” with her relapsing several times.

“When I fell pregnant with my second child, I knew that I needed to change my life. I was living in shelters; I had no money, and yet I was expecting another child. I think that was the moment I knew I had to start somewhere and change my life because I didn’t want my kids to end up like me. My firstborn has already needed to see a specialist because my drugging had affected him so badly,” said Viljoen.

Mitchells Plain’s Mark Klink, 40, has been sober for the past four years.

Klink said:

I did almost every drug under the sun; hard drugs and alcohol were preference. As an addict, you will always find the money for your next fix and I never really struggled to get money for my next usage. I think most of my usage stemmed from when my mom passed away. I don’t remember much of the day she died or much about my past life because I was completely out of it due to my usage. But I know my mom’s death played a huge part in me drugging every day of my life.


Megan Smith, a social worker at SANCA in Athlone, said they mainly dealt with people addicted to tik.

“Heroin, alcohol and cannabis, especially among our young children and adolescents, have increased significantly,” Smith said.

Smith said that the other challenges include ensuring that a holistic approach was adopted within treatment, such as health and physical needs that can’t be fully employed as a result of the scope that social workers within substance use and addiction work.

“We might be able to refer service users to those sectors or services; however, those services aren’t assisting addicts to what is their right. They are often treated differently because of the stigma and judgement. This often hinders the holistic approach that should be taken on in treating addiction. When service users are able to make that shift from shame and guilt to acceptance and accountability, it’s the most powerful approach that any recovering addicts and those hoping to attain recovery can take,” Smith added.

“Relapse is a part of the recovery process. We, as social workers, therapists and counsellors, can’t judge or condemn an individual who has the disease of addiction. We treat them with worth and dignity because they are human. They already feel shame and guilt, even disappointment. So the approach is to teach service users that relapses should be seen as a learning tool and identify the root of those relapses to ensure that they are able to overcome their triggers and cravings. It’s all about encouraging them and holding space for them to know that they are able and deserving of a drug-free life,” added Smith.

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SANCA said since 2020, 22 816 drug addicts had sought its services.

“Most of the clients were males (86%), and only 14% of the service users were females, which stayed the same as the previous year. Although there was a slight increase of women seeking treatment, it doesn’t compare to the large submissions of male clients,” said SANCA regional director Brad Mears.

There was an increase in admissions across all age groups, but the majority (61%) of the clients are people between 18 and 35-years-old.  At least 20% of the adults SANCA treated were in the 36 to 60-plus age group, with 19% of the clients between four and 17.

“The statistics indicate that there was a 9% increase for the admissions of youth between 22 to 35 years (45%) [who] received treatment at SANCA compared to last year. It is interesting that the second-highest group admitted accounted for 17% of admissions, were between 14 to 17 years of age, with an increase of 5% from last year,” added Mears.

He said this might be traced to the Covid-19 lockdown and schools being closed.

“The admissions of 18 to 21-year-olds contributed to 16% of the total admissions, followed by the 40-49 years olds at 11%; the 36 to 39-year-olds at 7% and 60 plus and 4-13-year-olds each contributed 2%. The impact on the 22-35-year-olds seems problematic as it is the highest admissions in the last five years for this age group. More research is needed to explore the reasons and impact of Covid on this age group,” said Mears.