top of page

South Africa's Struggle with Substance Use: The Need for a Strengthened Public Health Approach

Updated: Jan 27

South Africa's Substance Use: Strengthening Public Health Solutions

Dive into the complexities of South Africa's battle against substance use, recognizing its impact on health, safety, and societal well-being. Understand the global epidemic of psychoactive substance use and the need for alternatives to punitive approaches. Uncover South Africa's struggles with substance misuse and its economic implications. Explore the proposed policy review emphasizing a comprehensive, evidence-based framework focusing on prevention, treatment, harm reduction, and social reintegration. Recognize the importance of inter-sectoral collaboration and strong leadership in addressing substance use through a health-focused, human rights-based approach. Join the call for updated balanced policies and programs aligned with international guidance for a healthier South Africa.


Substance use and misuse are major public health challenges worldwide, with devastating impacts on individuals, families, communities and societies. South Africa grapples with the complex issue of substance use disorders (SUDs), which affect health, safety, productivity and social cohesion. Although the South African government has taken steps to address substance use, changing trends necessitate policy reforms centred on public health, human rights and evidence. 

The Global Epidemic

Psychoactive substance use is a global phenomenon affecting all nations. Beyond the toll on health, illicit drug markets threaten security, governance and communities. However, punitive approaches often exacerbate stigma, discrimination, illness, and recidivism among people who use drugs. The World Health Organization recommends alternatives to incarceration.

South Africa’s Struggles

Like other countries, South Africa faces substance use challenges that undermine health, economic participation, safety and social welfare. Alcohol and drug misuse contribute to a 6.4% loss in GDP annually. The problem requires urgent attention and coordinated response as substance markets rapidly evolve.

Time for Change

The Department of Social Development plays a central role in implementing prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and harm reduction strategies. Although South Africa has taken laudable steps, changing trends necessitate updated, balanced and evidence-based policies and programs. This includes aligning with guidance from the UN, WHO and African Union.

A Strengthened Public Health Approach

The proposed policy review aims to provide a comprehensive framework addressing prevention, treatment, harm reduction and social reintegration. It emphasizes inter-sectoral collaboration for maximizing impact. With strong leadership and political commitment, South Africa can progress in addressing substance use through a health-focused, human rights-based approach that tackles determinants and supports communities.

Continue Reading

The Prevention of and Treatment for Substance Abuse

Substance Use Trends and Strategic Interventions

Comprehensive Policy for Substance Use Disorders

Approach to Substance Use Prevention and Treatment

Approach to Substance Reduction Strategies

Overview of Substance Abuse Governance





bottom of page