Open Access Research article

Perceived need for substance use treatment among young women from disadvantaged communities in Cape Town, South Africa

Bronwyn Myers12*, Tracy L Kline3, Irene A Doherty3, Tara Carney1 and Wendee M Wechsberg3456

Author Affiliations

1 Alcohol and Drug Abuse Research Unit, South African Medical Research Council, Cape Town, South Africa

2 Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa

3 RTI International, Research Triangle Park, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA

4 Gillings Global School of Public Health, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA

5 Psychology in the Public Interest, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA

6 Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University School of Medicine, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Psychiatry 2014, 14:100  doi:10.1186/1471-244X-14-100

Published: 4 April 2014



Initiation of treatment for substance use disorders is low among young women from disadvantaged communities in Cape Town, South Africa. Yet little is known about the factors that influence perceived need for treatment (a determinant of treatment entry) within this population.


Baseline data on 720 young, drug-using women, collected as part of a randomized field experiment were analyzed to identify predisposing, enabling and health need factors associated with perceived need for treatment.


Overall, 46.0% of our sample perceived a need for treatment. Of these participants, 92.4% wanted treatment for their substance use problems but only 50.1% knew where to access services. In multivariable logistic regression analyses, we found significant main effects for ethnicity (AOR = 1.54, 95% CI = 1.05-1.65), income (AOR = 0.96, 95% CI = 0.93-0.99), anxiety (AOR = 1.22, 95% CI = 1.05-1.45), and not having family members with drug problems (AOR = 1.45, 95% CI = 1.05-2.04) on perceived need for treatment. When the sample was stratified by methamphetamine use, income (AOR = 0.87, 95% CI = 0.79-0.96), awareness of treatment services (AOR =1.84, 95% CI = 1.03-3.27), anxiety (AOR =1.41, 95% CI = 1.06-1.87) and physical health status (AOR = 6.29, 95% CI = 1.56-25.64) were significantly associated with perceived need for treatment among those who were methamphetamine-negative. No variables were significantly associated with perceived need for treatment among participants who were methamphetamine-positive.


A sizeable proportion of young women who could benefit from substance use treatment do not believe they need treatment, highlighting the need for interventions that enhance perceived need for treatment in this population. Findings also show that interventions that link women who perceive a need for treatment to service providers are needed. Such interventions should address barriers that limit young women’s use of services for substance use disorders.

Perceived need for drug treatment; Mental health; Women; South Africa; Methamphetamine