Coping with substance abusers

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Durban - There is hope and it is never too early to start educating children about the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse.

These were important messages from two stakeholders attending the 2nd biennial anti-substance abuse summit, which wraps up today.

BuaNews caught up with community developer Jimmy Nkwe from Sharpeville. He said the area is rife with substance abuse, hence he started working with the community in 2007 to help combat the problem.

His organisation, Ke-moja, travels to schools, companies and churches to educate people about drug abuse prevention, sexual abuse and personal development.

But how does one get such serious messages across to children as young as three years?

"We have to realise they don't have the capacity to think the way we do, so we have to come up with ways to get to their level," said Nkwe.

He says they make use of puppet shows for the younger kids as its gets their attention. "The response we have got so far has been amazing. For the older ones, it is also a continuous process," said Nkwe.

The passionate community developer explained that to encourage personal development, children are taught how to speak assertively and confidently. Their training is of a practical nature.

Nkwe said he thoroughly enjoyed President Jacob Zuma's address on the opening day of the summit, and agreed that this was an issue that can be eradicated. He also welcomed the proclamation made by National Police Commissioner General Bheki Cele on Tuesday to shut down illegal taverns. In his area, there are too many taverns, said Nkwe.

Nkwe was adamant that the summit, which brought together various role-players from government, business, labour and civil society to thrash out ideas on how to combat the issue, would allow him to expand his work and efforts to fight substance abuse.

Alcohols Anonymous wanted to use the summit to get the word out there, that while much emphasis is placed on the user, there is also plenty support for affected family and friends.

One woman said she joined Al-Anon, a support group for families, long before her alcoholic husband joined Alcoholics Anonymous, as she needed to be educated in dealing with her situation.

"The first thing you learn is that alcoholism is a disease. That helped me very much. First you get educated through literature and other people's experience, then you learn compassion and the need to love the person," she said.

The woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was important that the organisation provide support for family and friends of alcoholics. Al-Anon support groups can be found throughout the country and have been in existence for 60 years. 

She explained that one learned how to detach from the situation and give your life meaning.

For some time, while trying to raise her kids, hold a job and maintain a house, she took pills to cope with the pressure. But once she joined the support group, she felt safe enough to talk about her situation, only to find so many other people were going through the same thing.

"Getting over the stigma is the first step. One of the other principles is, what is said during the meetings must remain there, so people feel comfortable sharing their inner most thoughts," she said.
Social occasions such as weddings used to be a nightmare for the woman, but what Al-Anon teaches is that everyone is responsible for their own lives and one must not put their life on hold because of the disease.

"When I was at a wedding, I stopped being fearful that my husband would embarrass me. I just sorted myself out and made it clear to my family that my husband has a disease, I still love and respect him but I am not responsible for him," the woman said.

She explained that one's attitude towards substance abusers plays a crucial role in their recovery.

"It's very difficult in terms of trust and being hurt, but we have to love them and be supportive enough for them to become strong enough to seek help," she said.

She now works for Al-Anon to ensure that more people are reached and they understand that help is only one support group away.

There are also support groups for teenagers within Al-Anon.

These are useful websites for people who are trying to overcome substance abuse: