Fittingly, Wedge Gardens manager Adèl
Grobbelaar’s birthday falls on Women’s Day, August 9.
This year, she turned a significant 60 and to celebrate,
her colleagues organised a surprise breakfast party on August 5.
“It was the most sanitised birthday we have ever celebrated,”
laughs Wedge Gardens deputy manager Estelle Raath.
“Working with Adèl every day is more than working with a
colleague; it’s working with a friend. She makes Wedge a place of smiles,
laughs and precious memories. As we wish her a very happy 60th birthday, we
celebrate the person she is and the joy and delight we all get from working
“She is a very special person who spreads warmth and
kindness to everyone she meets,” says Estelle.
A veteran in the field of substance abuse rehabilitation, Adèl
has headed up the Sanca rehab centre in Johannesburg for 22 years. She has a BA
in Social Work (Hons) from the Rand Afrikaans University and a BA in Psychology
(Hons) from Unisa.
South Africa has banned the sale of cigarettes
during lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19 but the big illegal cigarette
brands are now the best sellers around the country.
“As most of us know, smoking is one of the
leading causes of lung cancer and other respiratory diseases worldwide. Unlike
legally produced cigarettes, illicitly produced cigarettes do not comply with
manufacturing and safety standards,” warns Estelle Raath, the deputy manager of Johannesburg-based
Sanca Wedge Gardens rehab centre.
Cigarettes contain the addictive drug nicotine,
as well as other toxic chemicals which are carcinogenic (cancer forming).
“There is no safe method of smoking. Nicotine
in tobacco is a very powerful addictive substance. Nicotine produces pleasing effects in your
brain, but these effects are temporary, and that is why you reach for another
“The addictive nature of nicotine and
withdrawal symptoms when trying to quit are what makes nicotine dependence a
chronic relapsing disease.
“With the current cigarette ban, my question is
‘If the smoking of legally produced cigarettes can cause so many diseases, what
are the illegal brands doing to smokers?’
“What other effects will smokers be sitting
with post COVID-19 and will we see a rise in substance abuse figures if these
illegal cigarettes contain chemicals that will leave smokers with more severe
symptoms and withdrawals?”
People who abuse drugs or
alcohol often do so to cope with anxiety, depression and other mental health
issues. A global pandemic like COVID-19 can trigger a wide range of emotional
reactions, causing high levels of anxiety and stress for all of us.
“Substance use and abuse
during this time should be avoided but ironically, people turn to substances to
cope with the stress and trauma,” says Estelle Raath, the deputy manager of
Johannesburg-based Sanca Wedge Gardens rehab centre.
People often cope by using
substances, primarily things that are easily available like alcohol, tobacco,
cannabis and non-prescription medications, she explains. “That’s why substance
abuse may rise during COVID-19. Substance abusers might look for a way to feel
better and escape from the traumatic and stressful circumstances. When they use
drugs or alcohol, the reward pathways in their brain are triggered.
“Many substance abusers
have underlying medical conditions, which often place them at great risk of
contracting COVID-19. The fear that they might get the virus by leaving their
homes or going back to work can cause extreme anxiety for many and anxiety and
stress are huge triggers for relapse,” says Estelle.
She explains that when a
person’s stress overwhelms their coping skills, they are more likely to abuse
substances, to relapse or to increase the substances they already use.
“We are social beings and
in need of human contact. COVID-19 has exposed people to isolation,
relationship challenges and financial insecurity. During isolation, no contact
can have a negative impact on mental health and again there is a correlation
between mental health and addiction.”
For those at risk
of relapse during this time, it is important to reach out for help before it
Other measures to
promote wellbeing during the pandemic:
Reduce or stop taking any non-prescribed substances if you can do it
Take prescription medication as prescribed.
Reduce the intake of caffeine and alcohol.
Connect with loved ones while maintaining physical distances.
Join addiction support groups; there are many groups available online.
Seek professional help if you cannot do it alone.
Gardens offers a professional substance abuse treatment programme based on
various psychological theories which were pioneered nationally. It is run in
conjunction with the 12-step professional programme.To contact Wedge Gardens, call 010 534 6596
or visit www.wedgegardens.co.za
My life revolved around alcohol, says 51-year-old
James Algera who recently celebrated 10 years of sobriety.
After growing up in Rustenburg in the North West,
James – like all abled bodied South African boys at the time – was conscripted
into the South African army for his national service. It was while in the army
that 19-year-old James first started drinking.
It was to be a long 20 years before he got clean and
in that time, alcohol nearly cost him his family and livelihood. Today, his
life is on track and James says he is in a good place, working as a structural
aircraft technician (sheet metal) in Saudi Arabia.
On July 19, 2020, he had been clean for exactly one
decade and to commemorate the milestone, he sent an email of thanks to Wedge
Garden’s Adél Grobbelaar, who has headed up the Sanca rehab centre since 1998.
“Today, 10 years ago, I asked my work to allow me to
be booked in at Wedge Gardens for alcohol abuse. I can proudly tell Wedge
Gardens today that it has been 10 years and I have never touched a drink again.
It has been a long and difficult road but with all Wedge Gardens’ teaching and
care, I made a difference in my life and society. Thank you, guys, so much for
my time there and all the care you took of me,” he wrote.
Looking back on his early days of drinking, James says
that the impact of his addiction was initially ‘not too bad’.
“As I got older, alcohol became a priority in my life
– everything revolved around it,” he says.
James was working in the aviation industry and he and
his family were living in Kempton Park. “Those years, using alcohol was the in
thing with the ‘boys’.
Eventually, he hit rock bottom – unable to function
properly at work or as a husband and father.
“My finances were in a bad way and I would drink to
make my problems disappear. I would make up with a hangover each day and my
problems just got bigger and bigger. Eventually, my wife said that I had to
choose between the bottle and her and our children.”
James had previously been told about Wedge Gardens by
his employer and made the life-changing decision to ask for help, thus starting
a new chapter in his life.
“The Wedge Gardens programme taught me to face life
without using alcohol to cope,” he says.
After leaving Wedge Gardens, James still faced a
number of challenges in reclaiming his life. “It was difficult. I had to leave
my old ways behind and get used to a new way of life – like fishing and camping
without a beer in my hand. I avoided so-called ‘friends’ who, it turned out,
only wanted to know me when I bought them drinks or drunk with them.
“I had to change my lifestyle and make new, sober
friends. Basically, at the age of 40, I had to start over again. This time, my
wife and two children were my priority.”
James says that four years after leaving Wedge
Gardens, his finances were still very shaky and he decided to apply for an
aviation job in Saudi Arabia.
“By the grace of God, my application was successful
and I have built a good career over the past six years.”
James’s wife lives in Saudi with him and their son
spent three years there with his parents but now lives in Kempton Park with his
sister, who is married and has given the Algeras two beautiful grandchildren.
James says he no longer thinks of drinking and
describes his emotional state as strong and positive.
“My advice to people battling alcohol is to focus on
God because He will help you through your struggles. Have faith and believe you
will get through the recovery process. Forget the world and focus on yourself.
“Do not be afraid to ask your family or, if you are
employed, your work for help. You will succeed; stay strong.”
KAREN GRIESSEL, A SOCIAL WORKER AT JOHANNESBURG’S SANCA WEDGE GARDENS TREATMENT CENTRE, TALKS ABOUT FAITH VERSUS FEAR AND HOW HAVING FAITH CAN HELP THE ADDICTION RECOVERY PROCESS:
During these trying times, a common experience
many are having is the uncertainty of what tomorrow holds.
There have been many job losses and few
opportunities exist. Then there is the pressure to maintain livelihoods within
the challenges of families and relationships. If substance abuse is added to
the mix, it paints a dim and unsettling picture.
Fear of the future not only keeps people
trapped in addiction, it also prevent them from making progress in recovery.
The most common fears that people experience include financial insecurity,
worry about how they will cope without alcohol or drugs, death, disease and
illness, relationship worries or that recovery is bland and boring with no
happiness, good feelings or the temporary comfort substances offer.
Another trap so many of us fall into so often
is worrying about things that have not happened – or may even never happen. It
is hard for people to let go of their concerns over what may happen and instead
focus on that which is in their control, which is preparing for the future.
The opposite of fear is faith, which is defined
as believing in that which is unseen in the hope that all will work out for the
good if we do the right thing.
Others forms of faith include having faith in
one’s own ability or in trusting others like a therapist or a support group or
a trusted friend or loved one. Even better is having faith in a higher power
for strength beyond understanding. A faith community also gives a person
support and structure, which may increase feelings of hope and the chance of
There is no amount of evidence that will
convince someone during active addiction that they can do without the
substances because the individual must be willing to take a leap of faith to
get the recovery ball rolling.
Moalosi, who is undergoing rehabilitation at Wedge Gardens rehab centre, wrote
this piece about his journey to sobriety:
I’ll start by
acknowledging the divine, God! And I give thanks for His continuous mercy and
everlasting love. It is a surreal realisation, one that can not be achieved
without one being totally truthful and humble.
Me, the true self, has
been dormant from suppression by what I understand as the enigma. There would
be no reason to live to learn without its carefully planned existence. I by no
means romanticise its persona, but I also do not disrespect it. Over the years
and through a dreadful journey of endless days and drug use, I found out about
many things. Most of which are polar opposites of who I truly am. But I did ask
God to guide Me to understanding myself and that’s when The Enigma appeared. To
learn and know what ‘it is’ I had to be taken to places where ‘it isn’t’,
physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally and figuratively.
I begun to seek the
unattainable and thought that rare knowledge would make me. It is actually sick
and scary to want to be smarter than everyone else. It’s an illness that
thrives off other illnesses – delusion to name one – and it infects perception
of self and of the space one finds one’s self in.
Despite the enigma’s
intentions, the true self stays true. That’s all it can be – true – and though
it is dragged through the dirt and darkness it never ever dies. It is the
strongest character I have ever met. It is darkness that discovers light, but
it is light that gives birth to life. It is light that nurtures and strengthens
minds and souls wholesomely. It is light that allows love. It is light that
brings warmth and healthy growth. It is the light that reveals the treachery
that lingers in the darkness. It is light that is the true self. And it is the true
self that is the light.
The enigma stirs the
need to pursue happiness, but happiness is but only temporary. The pursuit of
happiness is a second rate ambition, only monotonous boring people are happy!
It is easy to attain happiness – drugs, liquor, alcohol and many other
frivolous worldly things can bring happiness. One can develop an obsessive
compulsive personality whilst chasing a temporary chemical reaction – that’s
happiness when thoroughly thought of – which is an illness! It is the prize for
Joy is the internal
conquest uncovered. It is not found through and by inebriation, it cannot be
summoned by the external feeble offerings of the world. It is not delivered by
the hands of the meek. It lasts forever, for eternity! It does not compromise the
true self, for it is the true self that leads and guides one to joy. No fool
knows joy; no well-seasoned thief can steal it. No chemical can educe joy. It
can not be broken!
An interesting picture
has emerged of Wedge Gardens rehab centre outside Johannesburg, following
research done by Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, formerly known as
The university’s research
was done over the past year and involved 246 patients at Wedge Garden’s
in-patient facility for men aged between 18 to 82 years old.
highlighted addiction trends and provided valuable information regarding
substance abuse for us as a treatment centre,” says Karen Griessel, a Wedge
Gardens social worker.
“Our highest population
age range is 18 to 39 and dwindles as the age increases. Racially, we assist
more white men followed by black then coloured then Indian men.
“The population is made
up largely of single men with a small percentage of married or divorced
patients. Very few are widowed. Educationally, more than half have matriculated
and a good portion of patients have diplomas or certificates,” she says.
Unfortunately, a very
high percentage is unemployed. The report showed that in more than half of the
men, their direct family is responsible for financially assisting them. “Some
are self-sufficient,” she added.
Most also live with
“Interestingly, half of
the men were brought up in two-parent homes, followed by a large percentage of
“Christianity is the
major religion practised. Some of those researched have no religious
affiliation while a few other religions are practised by a minority of the men.
“Half of the men have
on average one or two children of their own,” says Karen.
Shockingly, more than
half reported that they were between the ages of 10 and 15 when they first
tried drugs. The next age group was 16 to 21 years.
Most first experimented
with cannabis, alcohol and cigarettes.
The drugs used just
prior to admission include dagga (39.4%), alcohol (32.5%), cigarettes (28%),
tik (24.4%), nyope (24%), khat (20.3%) and cocaine (16.3%).
Karen says that in the
years leading up to their admission to the rehab centre, many said they used
dagga, alcohol, cigarettes and khat.
prescription medication featured as well (19.1%).
“Another concern is
that 38.8% of the sample population said that family members – mostly brothers
and fathers – use drugs on a regular basis.”
According to the
research, a very high percentage have been in rehab before, with some having
taken the decision themselves to get help and other being urged to do so by
The reasons given for
their drug use include: It makes them feel good (56.5%), stress (56.1%),
curiosity (45.1%), chasing a high (43.1%), coping (39.4%), family problems
(38.6%), availability (37.8%), needing something stronger (30.1%) and finances
“Ultimately, it is
important to understand the people we work with so we can better help them,”
The use of the drug tik alters normal
functioning in a specific part of the limbic system that processes emotions
such as anger and fear. As a result of this alteration, people using tik can
easily develop paranoid, aggressive or violent states of mind.
“Crystal meth is typically sold in straws and
costs between R15 and R30,” says Karen Griessel, a social worker at Wedge
Gardens rehabilitation centre in Johannesburg.
Tik comes in many forms, from a fine powder to
larger crystals. It can be snorted, orally ingested, injected or smoked, which
is the most common method in South Africa.
On the street, tik has many names, including ‘tuk-tuk’,
crystal, straws and globes. The powder or crystal is placed in a light bulb
after the metal threading has been removed. A lighter is used to heat the bulb
and the user smokes the fumes.
Tik symptoms include loss of appetite, weight
loss, poor hygiene, increased irritability and a short-temper with out of
control aggressiveness, dilated pupils, rapid speech, high anxiety, psychosis,
headaches and insomnia. Addicts could still crave the drug months after using
“The affordability of tik means it has gained
rapid popularity in South Africa. Tik is often combined with a host of chemicals
and other harmful ingredients that cause mental health and physical health problems,”
To understand it better we need to understand
the limbic system, which is a collection of brain structures that includes the
hippocampus, hypothalamus and amygdala. The hippocampus plays a vital role in
normal consciousness by converting unstable short-term memories into stable
In addition to a wide range of other functions,
the hypothalamus acts as the origin point for a number of different emotions
and sensations, including pleasure, thirst, hunger, anger, aggression and
varying degrees of sexual satisfaction. The amygdala shares in tasks performed
by the hippocampus and hypothalamus, including storage of long-term memories
and the generation of pleasure, fear, anger and other emotional states.
Pleasure levels inside the limbic system are
regulated by a chemical messenger inside the brain called dopamine. High levels
of this chemical translate into an increased experience of pleasure. Like most
other commonly abused drugs, tik triggers euphoria by boosting the limbic
system’s dopamine levels.
However, while some drugs produce relatively
modest dopamine increases (two to four times above normal), tik produces an
extreme dopamine boost (12 to 13 times above normal). This extreme effect
largely accounts for the highly addictive nature of the drug.
“Tik also affects the pre-frontal cortex which
affects the ability to make decisions, forge healthy human connections and to
have empathy. This changes the pre-frontal cortex’s control over the amygdala
and results in feelings of paranoia. Addicts may think someone is out to get
them, that lies are being spread about them, that their possession are being
stolen or that their lives are in danger,” says Karen.
This fear often causes violent behaviour in habitual
Wedge Gardens rehab centre has a holistic three-month
programme run by professionals who are equipped to deal with the complexities
of drug and alcohol addiction. As challenging as it is, it is possible to get
clean and recover from the personal losses suffered through addiction – whether
these losses are physical, psychological, emotional, social or financial.
“Recovery is a lifelong process that needs holistic
rehabilitation. It takes commitment and motivation to want a healthy and normal
life again,” she says.
Wedge Gardens can be contact at 011 430 0320 or
visit the website www.wedgegardens.co.za
The recent videos that have created a storm across social media highlight the dangers facing our children.
Several children who smoked what was an unknown substance had to be rushed to hospital where they were treated for symptoms including seizures, psychosis, nausea, vomiting and hallucinations. At least 14 people were hospitalised after smoking the substance on the last weekend in October.
Karen Griessel, a social worker at Wedge Gardens rehab centre in Johannesburg, said that the increasing popularity of potentially-deadly synthetic herbs is a massive concern. Particularly worrying is the number of young children who expose themselves to synthesised chemicals while experimenting with what they often think are natural herbs.
The message is clear: Stay away from any substance similar to marijuana because one hit could land you in hospital.
In October 2016, Karen spoke out about patients who had used these cannabinoids, also called K2, Spice or Herb Blend, amongst other names. She also went undercover to prove how easy it is to purchase the substance.
“My concerns regarding this unregulated substance is that it is freely available and because the chemical compound changes in every other batch produced, it is a difficult task to pinpoint, prevent and, especially, to treat.
“However, the symptoms of smoking these herbs have obviously escalated to a whole new level which should not be underestimated – as illustrated so graphically in the videos currently doing the rounds.
“I think it is of major importance that a national education campaign around these substances be held. We need to protect our children and loves ones. The younger generations, many of whom are still naïve, are most vulnerable.”
She says the symptoms – violent temper tantrums, aggression, irrational behaviour, impaired mobility, slurred speech, panic attacks, seizures, reduced or elevated blood pressure, delusion, confusion and psychosis – are of grave concern.
“There are also rumours that the synthetic herbs are being laced with Flakka which could have terrifying outcomes because both are extremely dangerous drugs.”
Flakka is a synthetic drug but a cathinone similar to cocaine and bath salts (psychoactive designer drug). Symptoms include hyperactivity, strength, agitation, delirium and psychosis, changes in heart rate, cardiomyopathy and heart attacks.
“Now can you imagine mixing this deadly cocktail? More should be done across all sectors to safeguard our citizens. And citizens should be made aware and educated whilst the shops selling these products so openly should be exposed.
“Please use this information and share with others so we can be empowered to fight this enemy. If you have any information regarding these drugs and the shops selling them, please do the right thing and report it.”
Wedge Gardens can be contacted at 011 430 0320. You can also ‘like’ Wedge Gardens on Facebook (www.facebook.com/WedgeGardensTreatmentCentre) or visit their website – www.wedgegardens.co.za