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SAMJ: South African Medical Journal

On-line version ISSN 2078-5135
Print version ISSN 0256-9574


VAN HEERDEN, Margaretha S et al. Patterns of substance use in South Africa: results from the South African Stress and Health study. SAMJ, S. Afr. med. j. [online]. 2009, vol.99, n.5, pp.358-366. ISSN 2078-5135.

BACKGROUND: There are limited data on substance use in South Africa. We describe patterns of substance use based on recent, nationally representative data. METHODS: Data were derived from the 2002 - 2004 South African Stress and Health (SASH) study. A nationally representative household probability sample of 4 351 adults was interviewed using the paper and pencil version of the World Health Organization Composite International Diagnostic Interview (CIDI). Data are reported for lifetime use, socio-demographic correlates of use, and age of cohort predicting lifetime use for four classes of drugs. RESULTS: The estimate for cumulative occurrence of alcohol use was 38.7%, of tobacco smoking 30.0%, of cannabis use 8.4%, of other drug use 2.0%, and of extra-medical psychoactive drug use 19.3%. There were statistically significant associations between male gender and alcohol, tobacco, cannabis and other drug use. Coloureds and whites were more likely than blacks to have used alcohol, tobacco and other drugs. Clear cohort variations existed in the age of initiation of drug use; these were most marked for other drugs and for extra-medical drug use. Use of all drug types was much more common in recent cohorts, with a similar cumulative incidence of tobacco, alcohol and cannabis use across age cohorts. CONCLUSIONS: Epidemiological patterns of use for alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, other drugs and extra-medical drugs provide the first nationally representative data. New findings on race and exploratory data on time trends provide a foundation for future epidemiological work on drug use patterns across birth cohorts and population subgroups in South Africa.

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