Educators have important responsibilities, including keeping children and teens safe from drugs and alcohol. However, how are teachers supposed to determine if their students are using drugs?
With the right resources, this process is not as difficult as it seems. Some behaviors are easy to identify, while others are difficult to identify.
Finally, how are teachers supposed to step in and help? There are practical approaches.
Typically, student drug abuse issues are incorporated into student safety and accident prevention policies. It is the responsibility of all school personnel to ensure the safety and welfare of students.
Most jurisdictions have laws intended to ensure that schools and learning environments remain drug-free. Teachers are also responsible for reporting any drug abuse or addiction in the school. In addition, there may be mandatory reporting laws.
These laws are often applied to cases of child neglect or abuse. It can also apply to a situation where parents expose children to illegal substances.
Finally, it is the teachers’ responsibility to incorporate drug and alcohol prevention programs and encourage students to participate in these programmes. For example, keeping young people safe from drugs online, because social media and the internet are part of everyday life.
General symptoms of drug abuse
The general symptoms apply to the use of nearly all illegal substances. Some medications, such as hallucinogens, show noticeable signs of use that are unique to this medication.
In general, the common symptoms are:
- Uncharacteristic poor hygiene – eg, soiled clothing, strong body odor from not showering, poor hygiene or poor oral health, general lack of shaving. Note that this is not a natural characteristic of a student. Meaning they are usually pretty good with themselves and have made a drastic change.
- Sudden and drastic weight changes. This may include weight loss or weight gain due to a byproduct of medication-induced changes in appetite.
- On the skin, eyes, nose and mouth. This includes unexplained bruising or marks on the skin or redness of the skin. Bloodshot eyes, pupil size changes, nosebleeds, irritation in the nose, excessive coughing, dry mouth or throat, irritation in the mouth or throat.
- Withdrawal symptoms. They may complain of headache, runny nose, profuse sweating, nausea, vomiting, excessive fatigue, and insomnia – all part of drug withdrawal. Note that the disease is often associated with some of these symptoms. However, if these symptoms occur frequently, such as every few days or once a week, this should cause some red flags to appear.
- other behaviours. The pupil may have twitching, shaking, twitching, or scratching the skin of the face or arms. Note that it is necessary to focus on what is out of the ordinary or uncharacteristic of their usual behavior.
Behavioral signs are the most indicative
People who use drugs or alcohol are more likely to try to hide it out of shame, guilt, or denial. Behavioral indicators are the most indicative and may include:
- Changes in personal relationships. With whom to hang out, sudden changes in friend groups or complete isolation.
- Excessive protection of their personal space or property. They may become completely irrational or upset if someone looks at their desk, wardrobe, or backpack.
- Sharp and sudden mood swings, inappropriate and completely uncharacteristic of the situation.
- School work problems. This includes poor academic performance, tardiness or absence on homework, and attendance issues. Note that this may be uncharacteristic or worse if the student has experienced this previously.
- Loss of interest in extracurricular activities. This is especially important if they are actively involved in school activities and suddenly begin to give up interest and express any reason to do so.
- These memory problems are visible problems with schoolwork, when they had no problems before.
Understanding that most cases of substance abuse involve multiple symptoms with some degree of frequency rather than a single event is critical. There are legitimate non-drug explanations for many of these signs.
Teachers or educators notice everything, but the frequent repetition of the above symptoms, such as daily, weekly, or monthly, should raise red flags.
What steps can teachers take to help
How would you handle the situation if the teacher suspects that a student is using drugs or alcohol outside of class?
Some fear false accusations, which is understandable given the current social climate. Also, the underlying disease or prescription medications can cause similar effects. In general, actions should be taken carefully and quickly, but you should not rush. Here are some tips:
- First, identify what made you believe the student is using drugs or alcohol.
- Document what you observed, when it happened, students involved, etc.
- Look at drastic changes in their behaviour, which occur frequently, or absenteeism or deterioration in school performance.
Once it has been determined that a student is likely to abuse drugs or alcohol, the teacher must notify the school administration, parent, or guardian. Keep in mind that the goal should be to provide assistance.
If it is apparent that a student is using drugs or alcohol at school, immediate action must be taken. Every school has internal policies to deal with such a situation.
What if a student approaches a teacher about substance abuse?
If a student who abuses drugs or alcohol approaches a teacher, he is likely to ask for help—meaning he called you because he trusts you. Keep in mind the following tips:
- Be supportive and understanding.
- Please encourage him to talk to his parents or guardian.
- Don’t judge, blame or get angry.
- Consult the school administration.
- Be prepared to offer help and listen to what they have to say.
The teacher can be a source of support in the school and act as a mediator with students and their parents about their substance use. In addition, they can coordinate with parents for drug addiction counseling and resources.
The importance of a positive environment
Young people spend more waking hours in the school environment around teachers than they do at home with their parents.
The school environment is a critical factor affecting youth development. A positive relationship with school creates a greater sense of community, attachment, and achievement, which is associated with a reduced likelihood of substance abuse.
As a teacher, you can help the student form a positive relationship with their school by doing the following:
- Set clear, reasonable rules and boundaries that are consistently and measuredly enforced.
- Always be open and encourage students to express their opinions.
- Give praise and rewards for the student’s good behavior, accomplishments, and accomplishments.
- Show a sense of optimism and a positive view of learning.
- Encourage them to make constructive use of time and participate in other activities.
- Encourage reading outside school hours.
- Support alcohol-free events where children are.
Children have common misperceptions about alcohol and other drugs, such as that it is normal to abuse drugs. However, the vast majority of young people have never tried an illegal drug. Educators are essential to leading by example and creating a positive learning environment.
Drug use among youth – facts and statistics
The following information comes from the National Center for Drug Abuse and Statistics (USA). These statistics help paint a picture of the importance of drug prevention, education, and staying involved in every child’s life:
- 2.08 million, or 8.33% of 12-17 year olds nationwide reported having used drugs in the past month.
- Among them, 83.88% said they had used marijuana in the past month.
- 591,000 teens between the ages of 12 and 17 used illegal drugs other than marijuana in the past month.
- 8.7% of eighth graders have used illegal drugs in the past month.
- 21.3% of eighth graders have tried illegal drugs at least once.
- By the time they reached 12th grade, 46.6% of teens had tried street drugs.
- 11.89 million young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 have used drugs in the past month.
- 4,777 Americans ages 15 to 24 died of an illegal drug overdose in one year.
- 11.2% of overdose deaths are between 15 and 24 years old.
Drug prevention and education are key
A research article exploring the teaching competency of teachers to reduce drug and substance abuse stated:
“To increase the effectiveness of drug abuse prevention in educational institutions, especially for teachers. Schools should create a positive motivation for teachers to include aspects of drug abuse prevention in their second schools, and schools provide high-quality professional development with a focus on effective preventive strategies that teachers can advance.”
Using drugs early increases a person’s chances of becoming addicted. The risk of substance abuse also increases significantly during periods of transition. For a teen or young child, tough times include a move, a family divorce, or a change of school.
These are all conditions that educators face. Prevention and education programs are the keys to reducing early drug and alcohol use.