Get High on Grades Not Drugs - #KickTheHabit
Student Support Services (SSS) in the College of Health Sciences (CHS) hosted a webinar titled: Addressing Substance Use and Abuse after identifying a need for conversations on the issue following a noticeable increase in the problem among UKZN students.
In addition, national and international studies confirm an increased use of drugs among students in Higher Education (HE).
The SSS team hosted the webinar with the Department of Social Development’s (DSD’s) District office (Substance Abuse Prevention and Rehabilitation); the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (SANCA), and the Newlands Park Rehabilitation Centre (NPC).
The event was held to promote the International Day of Substance Abuse and Drug Trafficking held annually on 26 June.
Invited panellists were specialists in this area of work and the webinar was attended by University staff and students.
CHS Student Support Services Manager Dr Saloschini Pillay welcomed community partners and participants, highlighting the need to address the critical yet insufficiently discussed topic. Pillay said substance use and abuse were major global concerns, with generally higher statistics of reported substance abuse in South Africa compared to the rest of the world. She was hopeful that through the sharing of accurate information on substance use, abuse and the services of support available, students and staff would be inclined to make healthier and more effective decisions.
Student counsellor in the CHS Mrs Wulganithi Thaver, who coordinated the webinar, shared details about the impact of substance use and abuse on student academic progress as well as their overall integration into university life. Thaver spoke about the effect substance use had on memory, brain functioning and regular social interaction, which are all integral to a positive university experience.
As the core function of the SSS focuses primarily on the holistic development of students and their ultimate success, it was imperative to address critical issues associated with substance use and abuse, which negatively impact student success.
SANCA’s Mr Sthembiso Mdlanzi and Ms Nonkululeko Mkhize spoke to students on the topic: Be Smart - Don’t Start, focussing on unpacking definitions and general terminology surrounding substance use. They shared details about their work experiences at SANCA Durban and critical aspects affecting youth and young people at university.
Mdlanzi highlighted reasons young people used substances, citing boredom, peer pressure and experimentation, childhood exposure to drugs and social media influences. He said the term “experimentation” (first use only) quickly escalated into stages of dependency if not curbed. He emphasised that alcohol, cannabis and over-the-counter medication were the most frequently abused substances, however, these were the very substances known to be the gateway to hard drugs such as whoonga and sugars.
A very lively Q and A session was facilitated by a student counsellor in the CHS, Mr Siphesihle Shezi.
Participants inquired about various aspects of substances, including their use, effects, and what research was being done on them. The SANCA representatives highlighted the correlation between substance use and rape and HIV/AIDS and pregnancy; challenges known to impact students in HE.
There was an interesting debate on the legalisation of cannabis, which highlighted the gaps in the legislation and opportunities for abuse. Most importantly, the team from SANCA successfully stated how substance use impaired the higher order of judgement, memory and inhibition, often resulting in young people becoming demotivated, losing vision and eventually dropping out. The session ended with this powerful statement: ‘A young person may choose their first drug, but what they end up using will no longer be their choice. It’s more what their body begins to demand.’
Their message was clear: Choose wisely and don’t start. They concluded their slot by introducing their #KickTheHabit campaign.
Panellist Mr Philani Ndlovu, a child and youth care supervisor from the Newlands Park Rehabilitation Centre, spoke on aspects of Treatment and Care and the resources available for the youth. The Centre embraces a holistic and comprehensive strategy for rehabilitation and support.
Ms Suzanne Stokes, student counsellor in the CHS, introduced a fun activity, during which she highlighted the integration of music and dance as an active self-care strategy. Self-care leads to positive emotional health and psychological wellbeing benefits and the development of healthier habits, said Stokes, thus preventing maladaptive coping strategies such as substance use.
Students engaged actively during the webinar, completing polls and sharing overwhelmingly positive feedback, with students describing the session as ‘informative, interesting and very beneficial’. Two students said they had ‘not been aware of critical aspects that were highlighted during this session’, while another said: ‘I think this webinar can really help a lot of students because some of us are really not aware of the effects of drugs.’
Student counsellor Ms Kristy Greener described the partnership between DSD, SANCA, NPC and UKZN as being ‘valuable in addressing the scourge of substance use and abuse’.
At the end of proceedings it was clear that further engagement on the subject was vital.