“Looking back I now realise what I missed out on. At the age of 22 I started living. I felt like a teenager in an adult’s body. It took me a long time to catch up to others of my age.” 
(Anonymous recovering addict)

Many people think addiction is the only negative outcome of drug use. But most people, especially adolescents, will run into problems with drug and alcohol use way before they get to the point of addiction.

It is difficult for people to realise the impact of drug and alcohol use on their lives. Many know about the risks of addiction but cannot see the negative impact their drug/alcohol use is having on their lives before they reach that point. All they have been taught to look for is the extremes of death, crashed cars, a life on the streets etc. They may still be passing at school for example, but they are not doing as well as they would be if they were not using drugs. There is a loss of potential which they may never regain.

You don’t have to be an addict or alcoholic to have a problem with drugs or alcohol.

The greater tragedy regarding drug and alcohol use is this impact on their lives and the problems that arise way before a person gets to the stage of addiction. These involve lost potential and the slowing down or arrest of emotional and psychological development. Adolescence is a very important time when a person is learning to take on the role of an adult, someone who is independent, can think for themselves and come to their own decisions. When drug or alcohol use is involved, this development is slowed or stops altogether. One of the tasks of people who are recovering addicts, is to learn and go through the development they have missed due to their substance abuse.

We often have clients at the Cape Town Drug Counselling Centres who are in their late teens or early twenties, but when you talk to them it is like talking to a much younger person. This is because they have the emotional tools of a much younger person. They have learnt to use drugs to cope with life’s stresses and strains, to deal with disappointment or to celebrate successes. They now have to develop ways to deal with these things without the use of drugs. They need to try and catch up in their twenties what others have gained in their teens. This dynamic is also present for those who never reach the stage of addiction.