9 Challenges Our Students Face in School Today Part VIII: Drugs
Challenges are always around our students. Whether the struggle is submitting homework on time or staying focus in class, or other external factors, problems can cause our students to fail. The 9 challenges students face in school in this article are poverty, homeless families, child abuse and neglect, bullying (including cyber bullying), violence, obesity and eating disorders, sex and pregnancy, suicide, drugs, and dropping out. This article reviews the challenges of drugs.
The use of narcotics, drinking alcohol, and smoking are all included as part of the drug problem among youth. Teens and youth may also use and abuse prescription drugs, sedatives, inhalants, and diet pills. Overall, the use of alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana are lower than ever, but the war on drugs has not been won yet. In 2008, about 10.1 million persons aged 12 to 20 (26.4% of this age group) reported drinking alcohol in the previous month, and of this group, 17.4% were engaging in binge drinking and 5.5% were considered to be heavy drinkers. More than one fifth of eighth-grade students reported drinking alcohol in the past year. While teens generally understand and agree with the dangers of smoking cigarettes, many still smoke marijuana. More than half of students will try an illicit drug at least once by the time they graduate from high school.
Use of prescription drugs and inhalants are on the rise, and while marijuana holds first place in illicit drug use, prescription drugs and inhalants come in second. Students are witness to a society where pills are used to fix everything from a major health problem to killing pain to staying awake. It should not be surprising that students are beginning to use these substances to fix or alter emotional states as well. Inhalants such as glue, markers, paint, and air fresheners are also commonly used and very easy to obtain.
Alcohol and cigarettes are prevalent and have been socially acceptable in American society for generations. So it’s very hard to avoid them and even harder to keep children away from them. Many children see their parents use them, even if only in a social context. Once they reach middle school, it’s only natural that they want to try these substances themselves, especially when peer pressure is a factor.
Monitoring the Future is a survey conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) since 1975. In 2009, the survey found the following, reported in NIDA Info Facts: High School and Youth Trends:
• Cigarette smoking was at its lowest since the survey began.
• Methamphetamine use showed a past-year decline between 2004 and 2009.
• Binge drinking of alcohol was down from 2004 to 2009.
• The use of hallucinogens declined among grade-12 students in 2009.
• Rates of marijuana remained steady over the 5 years preceding the survey.
• The use of smokeless tobacco increased significantly among tenth graders from 2008 to 2009.
• The non-medicinal use of OxyContin and Vicodin increased significantly during the 5 years preceding the survey.
Students report that they can acquire or buy prescription narcotics from a friend or relative. They can also easily access alcohol. A small but disturbing number of students can access alcohol at school; this is more prevalent among males than females, among white students from higher income homes, among senior high schools students (i.e., grades 10, 11, and 12), and among students who are performing poorly in school. Any effort to address substance abuse among youth must include an awareness of how and where students are gaining access to drugs and alcohol.
Why is substance abuse such a problem? In short, no one really knows. There are certainly mixed messages. As parents and teachers teach of the dangers of substance abuse, the media hypes drugs and alcohol, stressing that they are good to fight loneliness and stress or can improve a student’s performance. Added to the mix can be stress due to family instability, being the victim of bullying or abuse, the obsession of our culture to succeed, and various other pressures that youth of today feel. Substance abuse among youth and teens is exacerbated when other family members are also using drugs. When a child abuses a substance, a parent is usually abusing drugs as well.
A particularly dangerous mix is substance abuse and teen pregnancy. Fetal alcohol syndrome occurs in babies whose mothers abuse alcohol during their pregnancy. “Crack babies” are born to mothers who use crack cocaine during pregnancy. The effects of these drugs on the fetus leave these children with lifelong problems that can severely affect their school performance.
Schools have been trying for decades to curb or stop the use of drugs in schools. Programs that have been used include Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.), which is a program that helps youth understand the facts about drugs and deal with peer pressures related to drug use. This program is funded by local police departments and is widely used, but it, along with the “Just Say No” message, has simply not worked. Another program that falls into the failure category is the U.S. Department of Education’s
Safe and Drug-Free Schools program, which is a part of the No Child Left Behind Act. While plenty of money is spent on this program, there is no accountability for the spending. In fact, there is no reputable track record to justify the existence of the program. Given the questionable value of many large programs, many schools have opted to develop their own programs, curricula, and policies to stop substance abuse.
How can teachers recognize students who are substance abusers? Students who are “popular” are more likely to abuse than the “unpopular” students. In addition to this, students who are abusing tend to have failing grades. There is an association between drug use and increased involvement in violent crime such as robbery, murder, and rape, whether they are the victim or the perpetrator; more unplanned pregnancies and more STDs; and higher risk of death due to drowning, fire, suicide, and homicide.
When you suspect a student of abusing a substance, the first step is to meet with the school counselor, who can tell you how to handle all aspects of the situation. When dealing with a student in this situation, be consistent in what you say and do. Ideally, the school will have very clear policies on how to handle the situation.
In the classroom seek to assist your students as best as you can and continue to educate them. Continue to read the other parts of this series to learn more about the challenges students face today.