Crystal meth and dagga, a lethal combination

Of great concern to nurses at SANCA Wedge Gardens substance use treatment centre in Johannesburg is the use of a combination of crystal methamphetamine (meth) and dagga.

According to SANCA Wedge Gardens’ deputy complex manager Estelle Raath, meth is a powerful stimulant that acts on the central nervous system.

“Most patients intentionally use meth and dagga at the same time, to take the edge off the meth high, which causes a temporary feeling well-being, increased alertness, energy and anxiety.

“The combination of meth and dagga that we see at our detox facility is all too common. Combined, it can cause significant brain damage,” says Raath.

She explains that combining meth with dagga enhances its harmful effect and the damage can be severe.

“Using the two together increases a person’s risk of mental health problems, including psychotic symptoms, especially in those patients with existing mental health problems,” says Raath.

“Meth destroys part of the brain and its long-term effects have shown a decline in thinking and motor skills and a severe change in the structure and functioning of parts of the brain,” she adds.

Mood disturbances, confusion and insomnia are some of the common symptoms of chronic meth use. Most patients develop symptoms of psychosis, memory loss and delusions that can continue for months or years after they’ve stopped using meth.

For more information about SANCA Wedge Gardens’ Full Circle Recovery Programme, visit

SANCA Wedge Gardens nursing staff are kicking their habit

SANCA Wedge Gardens’ nurses are up for the challenge and are kicking their habits in support of SANCA’s Kick Your Campaign this week.

For many nurses, their chosen profession brings lots of rewards, including a sense of satisfaction from making a positive difference in patients’ lives.

On the other hand, nursing can also be stressful.

Long hours on your feet, managing emergencies and meeting clinical demands can all take their toll on your body and mind. As a result, some nurses may develop unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as eating poorly, not getting enough sleep or not staying active enough.

For most nurses it is not that they don’t know what healthy eating is, but that working long hours simply gets in the way.

SANCA’s annual Kick Your Habit campaign – running this week from 21 to 27 June – gives SANCA Wedge Gardens’ nursing staff a week to make changes to their eating habits and also raise awareness of the complexities surrounding addiction and dependence.

By giving up one habit that gives you pleasure, you can experience what substance dependents may go through during treatment.


By: Adele Nel, Trauma Psychologist at SANCA Wedge Gardens treatment centre

There’s no doubt that our habits can make or break us.

Kick Your Habit is a national SANCA campaign that takes place from 21 to 27 June, to create awareness of the complexities surrounding addiction and dependence. 

The aim is to challenge everyone to give up something for seven days, whether it be coffee, chocolate or that morning rusk, to personally experience the decision-making process required when a substance abuser decides to go into recovery.

Habits are behaviours or attitudes we engage in regularly, routinely or repeatedly. Most of the time, we are hardly aware of them and the impact they have on us, our health, relationships or the way we live our lives.

Habits are not easy to change or ‘kick’ on your own, without support, but are definitely possible to break with the right conditions and support in place.

A change in habits can bring about positive changes, such as feeling more in control of life, improved relationships, smarter decision-making, increased self-confidence, balanced living, an increased appreciation of life and many more improved mental health rewards.

Our focus at SANCA Wedge Gardens treatment centre for the 2121 Kick Your Habit campaign is one of creating HOPE.

HOPE is powerful. It not only inspires us to do the impossible, it also helps us to carry on during difficult times.

For us, it is not just about kicking a bad habit, but about cultivating and encouraging a new positive habit we want to develop. Our therapists have focussed on habits of attitude to support patients to develop new positive habits, such as helping our patients to stop undermining themselves, face their fears, control their impulses, be patient with themselves and have faith in the process.

When we have HOPE that we can change, we are in a better position to be the best version of ourselves.

As Barbara Kingsolver said: “The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance, but live right in it, under its roof.”

Sean takes his life back

Boksburg-resident Sean Kelly (37) celebrates three years of being clean from heroin on 12 July.

Born in Mbombela (Nelspruit), Sean moved around a lot. “I mostly grew up between Benoni, Roodepoort and Johannesburg,” he says.

When he was 12, Sean started smoking, drinking and using marijuana.

“I started using mostly because I felt that I didn’t belong anywhere. My mom and dad got divorced when I was young, so my dad wasn’t really in the picture much. My mom got remarried to an abusive man, so I moved from my mom to my dad, then to boarding school and finally to my grandmother.

“There wasn’t much supervision, so I ended up hanging out with my older brother and his friends, smoking weed and taking designer drugs,” he says.

As the years passed, Sean used many substances, from alcohol to heroin.

“If I had to try and sum up my journey, from starting to use substances to finally becoming clean, I would have to say disastrous, painful, sad, lonely and way too long. Whenever you try to fill the emptiness inside yourself with a substance, it will inevitably end badly.

“I was going to raves at 13, mainly because no one cared what I did. Life was one big party after another. I never would’ve thought that 20 years later, I would be living on the street with a needle in my arm,” says Sean.

He explains that what started out as a confused teenager, trying to fit in and fun, turned into a living nightmare.

“It was a so-called self-made prison that I couldn’t escape from,” says Sean.

“The hardest and saddest part of this journey was all the people I dragged down with me. I threw away my children like they were nothing, like they were garbage, just so that I could have the freedom to shoot up heroin. I nearly drove my mother insane and pushed her way past her breaking point. The journey of an addict leaves behind a lot of collateral damage,” he adds.

Sean says his journey with drugs was almost as sad as his journey with rehabs.

“If I had to count all of the different rehabs and institutions that I have been to it would be more than 10. If I told you that all of those institutions were fantastic, I would be lying. I have spent about three years of my life in rehab, with my first stint in 2007. Hopefully my last was in 2020.”

Sean’s mother heard about SACA Wedge Gardens treatment centre when she was desperately looking for somewhere to put him.

“My first programme at Wedge Gardens was in 2017, and I was also in the halfway house programme in 2019. I have been in a few rehabs, but Wedge Gardens, to me, is one of the best. I relapsed after my first programme at Wedge Gardens. Even though that doesn’t sound great, it really was a turning point for me,” says Sean.

“There were things that I learnt at Wedge Gardens that made a huge impact on me, both emotionally and mentally. The programme taught me that I needed to take responsibility for who I am. Wedge Gardens also showed me, through occupational therapy, mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy, what I could practically do to help me heal,” he adds.

Sean says he has been extremely blessed since starting his recovery journey to have found a good job as an automation technician at Unilever in Boksburg.

“I am also studying personal training, which I hope to complete by August. I started playing the guitar, while in the Full Circle Recovery Programme at Wedge Gardens, and I have now also started playing bass and acoustic guitar in the church band,” says Sean.

“I also started gyming at Wedge Gardens in 2017 and it has stuck with me ever since. It’s amazing, when I think about it, there are so many good things that I started while at Wedge Gardens,” he adds.

When asked how hard it is to stay clean, Sean says some days are easier than others.

“Some days I wish I could go back to rehab and hide away from the world. It took me about a year to adjust to normal life after my time on the street and my two years in rehab. I have learnt that I can’t stop doing the things that have kept me clean. There will be hard days and that’s okay. I have the tools and the support I need to make it through those days.”

To others battling a life of substance use, Sean says his biggest lesson was to be patient with himself.

“Recovery is not a quick and easy road. It takes hard work, sacrifice, perseverance and a lot of faith. I had to let go of everything and start from scratch. It was not easy, but by the grace of God I have made it this far and by the grace of God so can you,” he says.

As for the future, Sean has many plans.

“I got a chance to start again, so I will not make the same mistakes again. I am getting married in October to an amazing woman, who has been an unbelievable support to me. I will be continuing my fight to get my children back and to do my best to be a good father to them.

“I will also be building a career in personal training and will possibly work on writing enough songs for an album. I also have plans for a lot of traveling, as I still want to see the world and maybe retire in Fiji,” he says.

Sean is adamant that what sets Wedge Gardens apart from all of the other places he has been in, is the staff.

“Yes, they are professional, but they also care a lot about the patients. They are the ones who created the environment that helped me to get better,” says Sean.

“I want to thank Wedge Gardens and places like it for giving people like me, who had no hope, a chance at living a great life. They didn’t just help me overcome my addiction, they also helped me to see that I am capable of so much more,” he adds.

For more information about SANCA Wedge Gardens Full Circle Recovery Programme, visit

#SANCAKickyourhabit challenge

The #SANCAKickYourHabit for one week challenge takes place this year from 21 to 27 June to raise awareness through experience, by challenging individuals within our communities and country to stop using one ‘thing’ for a week and experience, albeit briefly, what a substance dependent might go through in treatment.

Listen to the radio adverts below.

#SANCAKickYourHabit English radio advert.
#SANCAKickYourHabit isiXhosa radio advert.
#SANCAKickYourHabit Sotho radio advert.
#SANCAKickYourHabit Setswana radio advert.

Use benzos with care – they are addictive

SANCA Wedge Gardens treatment centre’s Estelle Raath.

While benzodiazepines (also known as benzos) can help treat some mental health and neurological conditions, they are addictive and should only be used for a short amount of time.

This is according to Adèl Grobbelaar, the manager of SANCA Wedge Gardens treatment centre, who confirms that many people suffer from benzo addiction.

Benzos are sedatives, most often prescribed to treat anxiety and panic disorders. They are usually used as a short-term treatment, given for two to four weeks, in pill form. In rare situations, they can be injected to help control panic attacks.

“Benzo addiction has always been a problem, but was often seen in women more than men. Since the coronavirus pandemic hit South Africa, benzo abuse has become more noticeable in both genders.

“Many addicts land up in hospital due the very complicated benzo withdrawal process. Some benzo addicts drink two months’ worth of sleeping tablets a day. No detoxification medication can provide an equivalent of that dose, unless they are placed on a drip in hospital,” says Adèl.

The growth in benzo use during the coronavirus can largely be attributed to an increase in anxiety and depression caused by the pandemic. “For this reason, some doctors prescribed benzos more frequently,” says Adèl.

While people need a doctor’s prescription for benzos, addicts are still managing to get large supplies as they visit numerous doctors. While pharmacies should be able to pick this up, some do not take down people’s personal details when they pay cash for their medicine.

“While there is a codeine survey in place to manage the selling of codeine, not all pharmacies participate,” says Adèl.

Excessive benzo use makes addicts aggressive, even though they are prescribed as sedatives, as withdrawal typically only starts after the fourth day. One client that arrived at SANCA Wedge Gardens for benzo addiction treatment become so violent that he crashed through one of the rehab centre’s windows and had to be admitted to a hospital’s psychiatric ward. He was also an alcoholic, but has since become sober.

“If not medically assisted, these users can start having seizures on the seventh day. The withdrawal symptoms keep them awake day and night, which could cause the aggression.

“When taken in large amounts, a substance users’ tolerance level changes. This is why they have to keep taking more to get the desired effect,” says Adèl.

Rehabilitation for benzo use is also particularly challenging because patients are not honest about the amounts they take. 

“These patients can be very difficult, emotionally needy and seek pills for every complaint they may have. Usually, they are not motivated and have been forced by someone to undergo the rehabilitation process.

“It is not often a success story and these users often don’t complete the rehabilitation programme. They have a better chance if they have already completed the detoxification programme in hospital, before being admitted to rehab centre,” says Adèl.

To people who have been prescribed benzos to ease anxiety, Adèl advises that they only use them short-term to avoid addiction. The risk of addiction is higher if you have a history of drug or alcohol abuse or if you have a personality disorder.

“If anxiety persists, rather consult a psychiatrist so that you can be assessed properly. There is alternative medication available, that is more effective,” says Adèl.

Common side effects

Common side effects of benzos include drowsiness or sleepiness; dizziness; headache; confusion; numbed emotions; reduced awareness; muscle weakness; tremor; problems with balance and walking, speaking and swallowing; and problems with motor skills, including writing and eating.

Some of the common physical side effects of withdrawal include stiffness, weakness, stomach problems, flu-like symptoms and visual problems; while some common psychological side effects of withdrawal include anxiety, insomnia, nightmares, depersonalisation, problems with memory and concentration, depression, hallucinations and delusions.

For more information about SANCA Wedge Gardens and its Full Circle Recovery Programme, visit

SANCA Wedge Gardens honours its nurses

In honour of National Nurse’s Week 2021, Estelle Raath from SANCA Wedge Gardens treatment centre had the following to say to all of Wedge Gardens’ nurses:

“I acknowledge the work you perform every day. What a fortunate time to publicly share this recognition. I am so proud of all the nurses who work at SANCA Wedge Gardens. Each of you has devoted additional resources to navigate the challenges placed before you for our patients.

“I am proud to be a nurse and to stand by you during the most challenging healthcare crisis we have encountered in a century. Thank you for the work you do so tirelessly and ensuring quality care to our patients. Let’s continue to work together to give the nursing profession a voice to lead!”

Pictured are SANCA Wedge Gardens’ nurses Lydia Maseko, Estelle Raath and Merrios Maluleke.

SANCA Wedge Gardens’ clients put craft skills to good use

SANCA Wedge Gardens Treatment Centre’s part-time occupational therapist Caryn Berman says occupational therapy (OT) has a huge role to play in substance use disorder rehabilitation.

She works with men at the rehab centre who are in the process of recovering from various addictions.

Men at the centre work in groups, that can take the form of discussions, games and crafts.

“Creative groups introduce leisure activities and skills that can be emotionally meaningful and financially rewarding, and consist of activities such as bead work, cooking, leather work, woodwork, decoupage, drawing, adult colouring in, chocolate making and baking, among others,” says Berman.

“Many patients get involved in the creative activities and have been following through with them in their own time in the evenings and on weekends, which helps to fill the long hours when no therapy takes place. This is a realistic training process for life outside of rehabilitation,” she adds.

While doing crafts, one learns valuable skills, such as following instructions, correcting errors and trying again until you master a skill.

“The patients love taking home items that they have made and giving them to their families as reflections of how far they have progressed. This also helps to improve self-esteem,” says Berman.

Vetkoek making at SANCA Wedge Gardens.

Copyright Wedge Gardens Treatment Centre 2016