Addiction Treatment in South Africa (Part 1)

I was recently asked by a local newspaper to comment on addiction treatment in South Africa. Below are their questions and my comments.

1. Qualifications:

Worked in the addictions field for 15 years, accredited through both the FDAP (UK) and the IC&RC (USA) since 2001. Have held the ‘Head of Treatment’ position in both the UK & SA.

2. Position held while in Plettenberg Bay:

Director at local Plett rehab centre

3. Current position:

Alcoholism and drug addiction treatment coordinator at

4. Why are there “so many” rehabs in Plett?

Dot’s Plot was started in 1997 by Russell Unterslak as a long term drug addiction rehab option for people from the larger cities in South Africa. His hope was to maintain the quality of care and keep prices as low as possible to better enable all addicted and alcoholic people to get the help they need. This attracted staff and patients from further afield and when Dot’s Plot closed down these staff had integrated within the Plett community, fallen in love with its people and chosen to stay on, starting centre’s of their own.

5. Are there other areas in the country with a relatively high concentration of rehabs? (of which you are aware, any way)

Cape Town also has a high concentration of addiction rehab’s for the proportionate population size and also attracts patients from abroad.

6. Why are private rehabs largely unaffordable to locals?

The situation is unfortunately the same in England and America, the two others markets I’m most familiar with. Unless you’re on a good medical aid, access to quality addictions care is not readily available. I once had a desperate patient being told with his mother present to commit a crime to fastrack him towards the front of the UK’s National Health Service queue! Unfortunately even once at the front of the queue the quality of care available to patients is not as good as going privately – so people addicted to alcohol and other drugs are in a tight position worldwide, not just in Africa.

There are some of us attempting to address this discrepancy by looking at ways of providing long term, quality addictions care at realistic African prices. Hopefully within the next few months we’ll have some concrete solutions to offer people. Providing high quality addictions treatment & care is costly, strangely enough it’s much more expensive to not provide effective addictions care. It’s been proven in American studies that for every $1 (US dollar) spent on effective addictions treatment, approximately $7 is saved. Actively addicted people are essentially committing slow motion, covert suicide and detracting from all around them, potentially involved in crime etc. Once engaged in long term recovery they contribute meaningfully to their broader communities as responsible, tax-paying citizens.

This approach saves lives and save’s money too! It certainly makes sense to me as a high proportion of people in jails worldwide commit their crimes whilst intoxicated and / or looking to get additional funds for drugs & alcohol so it absolutely makes financial and social sense to invest the funding required to provide quality addictions care to as many addicted people as possible. Another angle to view addiction from is looking down on each household and thinking about the children that are growing up there. We hope these children will grow up to be responsible, taxpaying members of society. But chances are they’re only going to do so with healthy input and positive role models to look up to. I have a friend who’s been in recovery for decades and one of his favorite sayings is “If there’s one thing that addicts and alcoholics do with certainty – it’s breed more addicts and alcoholics!”

If we don’t provide quality care for addicted parents, surely all we’re doing is helping to perpetuate the dysfunctional cycle of addiction, high crime rates and a huge social burden? Continued in Addiction Treatment in South Africa Part 2

Scroll to top
Call Us Now