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“Thank you to EAPA-SA for the amazing opportunity to be the first speaker in their EduWeb series. So many firsts for me with the Facebook live feed and using new presentation software! An incredible experience speaking on a topic I am passionate about.” – Carol Venter: Client Service Manager at ICAS
South Africa is right up there with the rest of the world when it comes to substance abuse. Our consumption far exceeds the norm. We manufacture, consume, import and export drugs and are considered one of the drug capitals in the world. Substance abuse costs the South African economy a staggering R20 billion per annum. Alcohol remains the primary substance of abuse in the workplace along with cannabis, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines such as tik or quat being the most commonly used illicit substances.
As illustrated in the “Rat Park” research video shown during the presentation, the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it is actually connection. The impact of the COVID-19 lockdown has been isolation and disconnection – and people are feeling the need for connection. Practitioners need to consider the impact that this has had on the workforce – and anticipate that many more substance abuse and addiction cases will be coming through, down the line.
“the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it is actually connection”
Here are the practice guidelines that Carol provided for EAPs:
- Screen your adult patients for substance abuse disorders: especially those who are coming forward at this time presenting with high stress levels and anxiety.
- Be alert for signs of behavioural or cross-addictions. Keep in mind that with so many individuals shifting into their homes and working remotely with less supervision and being online all the time it can increase one’s susceptibility to behavioural addictions.
- Find creative ways to connect with clients remotely: This is something we have to do right now – for example engaging in Zoom sessions, video counselling or using WhatsApp messages and telephone conversations.
- Continued education in the workplace is vital: Sometimes we lose sight of the educational aspect – so vital right now. Perhaps a good campaign to start with would be around responsible drinking.
- Reviewing and updating substance abuse policies: Many workplaces have not yet reworked their substance abuse policies around cannabis. Also, it is important to look at how this policy works alongside a EWP policy to provide support around early detection of problems.
- Promoting work-life balance: We are all struggling at present. We are a workforce that is always on – trying to juggle parenting and homeschooling while our routines are gone and the boundaries between work and home life have disappeared.
- Keep in mind the need for connection: How do people in recovery connect with themselves as part of their healing. How do they connect in recovery – what resources are there for them? How are they reconnecting with family and, later, how are they reconnecting with their community?
- It is important to normalise addiction as an unhealthy coping mechanism: This is not about normalising addiction – but we do know it is a disease, it is an illness and it is treatable. How do we de-stigmatise addiction and make sure that we are playing our role in empowering individuals to come forward when they have a substance abuse or addiction problem.
- Finally, it is important to approach the problem with respect, compassion and empathy: We are all susceptible to addiction; and as our understanding of addiction has evolved and we understand that there are behavioural addictions, there is no longer a stereotype we need to adhere to of a homeless individual, lying on a park bench who is an addict. It could be any one of us. We should stop shaming individuals suffering from addiction and allow them to come forward for treatment and help when they need it.
Here are Carol’s answers to some of the questions that were not answered live during the webinar:
Testing in the workplace is a challenge. What kind of behavioural analysis can be used to detect drug use?
“This depends on the substance. Alcohol is a central service system depressant that may make the user obviously inebriated, or maybe sluggish and slow on the uptake, whereas a stimulant such as cocaine could make the person hyperactive and jittery. Certain drugs can cause an employee to be irritable or aggressive and confrontational. Pertinent behaviours to look for, across the board, are increased absenteeism, especially on a Monday or Friday, presenteeism as indicated by things such as an increase in mistakes or sloppy work – or unusually confrontational behaviour.”
What coping mechanism would you recommend to clients with a gambling or alcohol addiction during this time of lockdown?
“I recommend the addicted person gets into a treatment programme right away – virtual if need be. In the case of an addiction to gambling, in addition to individual therapy, it may be necessary to engage with the person’s family, to ensure they hand over access to the Internet or the control of their finances to another adult for a period of time. In some cases it may be necessary to place a formal ban on the addict’s access to physical casinos. In the case of alcohol addiction, it is important to ensure that there is absolutely no alcohol in the home at the beginning of treatment. Alcoholics will find a way to access alcohol in any form possible, for example resorting to drinking cough mixture. Several people have died during the lockdown as a result of drinking alcohol-based hand sanitiser. Into their treatment the individual will be given tools to enable them to say ‘No’ to alcohol in a social setting.“
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Mrs. Carol Venter
ICAS: Client Services Manager
Carol Venter is a Social Worker who started her career at SANCA Alcohol & Drug Central Eastern Cape in 1997 and went on to hold the position of Director until leaving the Organisation in 2006. Carol lectured the substance abuse courses for the Rhodes University Social Work Department for many years and is a treatment professional with the National Responsible Gambling Programme.
Carol Venter has recently completed her Masters in Occupational Social Work at Wits University. Her research study was on substance abuse in the workplace and the impact of the short-term, solution focused approached used by EAP’s in the problem. Mrs. Venter has 8 years experience in the EAP field and have been actively involved in the substance abuse and addiction field for over 20 years through her work at educational institutions, NGOs, in the EAP field and in private practice. The topic of substance abuse and addiction is truly her passion!