The Importance of Occupational Therapy Intervention Programmes for Substance Users

Posted on March 23, 2022

Substance use has become a societal problem and the identification of substance use disorders and addictive behaviours are expanding worldwide.1 In South Africa, persons living in poverty experience limited opportunities to participate in constructive leisure activities.2 Due to lack of resources, leisure and recreational facilities, people are prone to engage in unhealthy lifestyles such as substance use.  Dr Paul Seale from the Mercer University School of Medicine in the US-led research concerning drug use in South Africa. He discovered that 13.3% of the people had utilized drugs in the course of their lifespan leading to substance abuse in 3.9% of individuals and dependence in 0.6%. 3

Substance use has a significant effect on an individuals’ occupational performance.2 Substance users experience occupational imbalance whereby there is a lack of balance between activities of their daily living such as rest and sleep, work, leisure participation and leisure exploration, and social participation.2 They also experience occupational alienation whereby individuals participate in activities that are not according to the nature of the activities of their daily living, and the results that are seen from occupational alienation are stress and feelings of boredom.2

In the past few weeks, the Department of Occupational Therapy hosted group sessions with beneficiaries at Life Changing Projects (LCP). This was previously a COSUP site, where persons who use substances are accommodated and assisted. They have expressed that they experience difficulties with falling asleep and engaging in meaningful activities, some of them have reported that they are not able to fulfil their roles as sons, partners, brothers, and fathers as they have broken relationships with their family members due to the use of substances. The beneficiaries have reported that they would like to learn new skills that will help them to find employment.

One of the main goals of occupational therapy is to identify the needs of clients and work collaboratively with them to address their needs. Occupational therapy plays a vital role in addressing factors that act as a barrier and prevents clients from engaging in their activities of daily living. The good news is that the beneficiaries at LCP are afforded an opportunity to attend group sessions with occupational therapy students. Occupational therapy intervention assisted the clients in introducing prevocational skills programmes that will help them to regain their self-esteem and self-confidence. The intervention programmes that have been used include introducing leisure activities that the beneficiaries can participate in during their free time and utilise their free time constructively. The beneficiaries have been introduced to programmes that are aimed at educating and training them in problem-solving skills, communication skills, assertiveness skills, and conflict resolution skills. These skills will help them to work towards mending their relationships with their families and to maintain relationships with their friends, partners, and colleagues in the future.


  1. Ryan DA, Boland P. A scoping review of occupational therapy interventions in the treatment of people with substance use disorders. Irish Journal of Occupational Therapy. 2021, vol. 49:2, pp. 104-114.
  2. Crouch R, Alers V. Occupational therapy in psychiatry and mental health. 5th ed. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd; 2014.
  3. Drug users: No time like the present to ‘Kick your Habit’ - Health-e News [Internet]. Health-e News. 2022 [cited 3 March 2022]. Available from:

About Authors: Mutshidzi Nefale is a fourth-year Occupational Therapy student) and Nthabiseng Ramodisa an Occupational Therapy Lecturer at the University of Pretoria

- Author Mutshidzi Nefale and Nthabiseng Ramodisa
Published by Mmane Boikanyo

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