Original Research

Substance use patterns in an adolescent psychiatric unit in Johannesburg, South Africa

Vuyani W. Nxumalo, Yvette M. Nel
South African Journal of Psychiatry | Vol 30 | a2198 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/sajpsychiatry.v30i0.2198 | © 2024 Vuyani W. Nxumalo, Yvette M. Nel | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 26 September 2023 | Published: 31 January 2024

About the author(s)

Vuyani W. Nxumalo, Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Yvette M. Nel, Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa


Background: Substance use among adolescents carries a significant public health and socioeconomic burden with potential long-term consequences for the adolescent substance user (SU). Adolescents with mental health challenges are vulnerable to substance use and substance use worsens outcomes in this population.

Aim: This study aimed to describe the substance use patterns among inpatients admitted to a specialised tertiary adolescent inpatient unit in Johannesburg over a 4-year period.

Setting: This study was conducted at the Tara H. Moross Centre (Tara Hospital), in Johannesburg in the Gauteng province of South Africa.

Methods: This was a retrospective comparative record review of all patients admitted to the adolescent unit over the 4 years.

Results: A lifetime history of substance use was documented in 44.1% (n = 52) of the 118 patient’s records included in the final analysis. Cannabis was the most frequently used substance (n = 36, 69.2%). There were significant differences between the SU and substance nonuser groups regarding family structure (p = 0.012), family history of substance abuse (p = 0.046) and conflict within the family (p < 0.001).

Conclusion: The high prevalence of substance use in this sample demonstrates the dual burden of mental health disorders and substance use in an adolescent treatment programme in Johannesburg. Primary caregiver burden and relational difficulties within the family unit should be observed for planned multidisciplinary interventions.

Contribution: The findings of this review provide an update on the pattern and prevalence of substance use among this adolescent mental healthcare user group, highlighting potential therapeutic targets.


adolescent; mental health; inpatient; substance use; prevalence.

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 3: Good health and well-being


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