A deadly epidemic is putting our children at risk

South African children are at risk of falling prey to a deadly epidemic. And nowhere is the risk greater than here in the Western Cape. 

From the Cape Flats to suburbia, children are at risk of substance abuse or addiction.

As the country observes Child Protection Week, June 2 – 9, the evidence shows overwhelmingly that adults are responsible at least to an extent. Nurture versus nature is often part of the debate. Even if you have a reason to blame it all on genes, it would be senseless because genes can’t be changed after conception. It would be like praying for a child’s brown eyes to be turned blue.

 According to scientists who study our roughly 20 000 genes, no single gene comes marked like a lotto ball: "alcoholic", "drug addict", “compulsive gambler” or “social media addict”. 

 All is not lost though. There is hope.

It helps to understand that it’s largely nurture – not just nature – that causes addiction, whether in an individual or in epidemic proportions.

While we, the parents and grandparents, friends and neighbours didn’t consciously decide to raise our children to become addicts, there’s no denying that we helped shape the environment in which they live and in which the addiction epidemic is thriving.

This scourge will continue to devour our children unless we unlearn what we’re doing now.

We,  South Africans,  have deeply buried emotional and mental wounds which fester and are carried over from one generation to the next and affect the nation and feeds this addiction epidemic.

Addiction is a slow burner, but it’s destructive on many levels, through crime, abuse, mental illness and mental disorders,  poverty, unemployment, high school drop-out rates and lays waste to human potential, dreams and

innovation. And, it kills the collective spirit which we need to make economic recovery a reality in South Africa.

Hence, our first plan of action to help future generations and those who will help run the country in the next decade or three– is to make a conscious choice to become informed and work on prevention.

And, if a child, teen or young adult in your life is addicted, we have to find a way to connect with you too.

Rest assured, to effect change on the disease we need to shine a light on the darkness of ignorance because our ignorance is enabling this epidemic.

Even if you’re a fantastic parent or teacher or friend, neighbour or extended family member but perhaps there’s room for improvement. Prevention is a better and cheaper strategy than denial.

It’s about examining the contributing factors one by one and about getting honest with ourselves – for the sake of our children and our future.  It’s about listening to the stories of recovering addicts who have been to hell and beyond but who made a comeback and who live functional lives again. It’s not about judgment. It’s about healing and hope, for those who may need it.

* Vermaak is a freelance journalist.

** The views expressed here are not necssarily those of Independent Media.

Weekend Argus

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