Educators Can Better Help Prevent Youth Addiction

As alcohol and drug use among young people continues to increase, schools are implementing educational programs for early intervention. However, such efforts have been lagging behind. For example, in 2017, only one in four students aged 12 to 17 had heard of drug or alcohol prevention messages at school. This means that most youths have not experienced benefits in school messaging campaigns. There are still many things educators can do to play an active role in curbing the substance addiction epidemic among school-age children.

Given how much time young people spend in school institutions, teachers and staff at schools may be at a better place than parents when it comes to influencing students' behaviors. The best way for school educators and social workers (counselors) to do this is to collaborate with families in sending consistent messages to young people about the harmful effects of alcohol and drugs. School educators and social workers can also connect individual needs to trusted community treatment resources.

Recognizing the Signs of Youth Addiction at School

Educators should be more proactive in identifying behavioral signs and symptoms of substance addiction among youth and teenagers. These signs include mood changes, behavioral problems, poor academic performance, disregard for school rules, poor concentration, and lack of social engagement. If they suspect a student is going through any of these changes, then it is time to have a conversation. This is an opportunity to figure out what is going on and give students good information about the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol.

Teachers and staff at school must not shame the suspected student even if he or she is using drugs. Instead, they should let the student know that they are mainly concerned about their health. They can use some personal stories to drive the point home. It is also essential to help students build an exit plan. If they are pressured by certain peer groups to use drugs and alcohol, teachers and staff should try to help them think of a strategy.

Expanding the Campaign to Include Parents and Mental Health Wellness 

Teachers and staff can integrate substance-related education messaging into parent-teacher conferences and invite parents to become more engaged in their community. Schools can also become training grounds for raising awareness about early intervention. Perhaps school educators and staff might find out that some students have been exposed to parental drug or alcohol addiction. In such a case, it is even more important to integrate messages about how exposure to parental addiction may increase the risk of children becoming addicted in the future.

Schools may integrate addiction into their mental wellness promotion strategy. They can introduce community resources that help address the dual problem. This helps break down the stigma associated with mental health problems and addiction. Further, because mental health issues and substance addiction are often co-occurring conditions, this integration can be highly effective in preventing both.

Some schools have been promoting the Social Emotional Learning (SEL) model, which encourages self-awareness, self-management, and responsible decision-making. The skills this program helps students acquire can also effectively alleviate the substance addiction epidemic. One of the challenges might be a lack of coordination among different organizations that are supposed to be doing different things for the same population: youth.

Becoming Better Equipped for Both Prevention and Treatment

Teachers and staff at school shoulder many responsibilities. They are already experts in behavior modification and the prevention of developmental problems among children. Still, a percentage of educators can be better informed and educated on the topic of substance addiction and treatment plans for youth. For this reason, schools should provide more resources and training for teachers and staff to build up their literacy on issues related to addiction.

Even in schools where a prevention-focused model against addiction is in place, this does not mean that prevention is enough. There is a need to build a more structured system to assess, diagnose, and treat young people who have a substance addiction, especially among adolescents. Schools can partner with professional interventionists who can connect families to health professionals and treatment in the community.

In summary, there needs to be a multi-tiered support system where parents, school educators, social workers, prevention organizations, and recovery interventionists work together to fulfill their respective roles. Schools are community hubs that connect these different parts. Some of the programs promoting emotional wellbeing can be integrated into a much broader campaign. The post-COVID era calls for more community collaboration initiated by educators.

Are you a school educator who is concerned about a student’s substance addiction problem? Do you know how to talk with the parents about it? Are you informed about the harmful effects of drugs and alcohol on young people? Do you feel confident about how to connect families with community resources? Do you want to help families by bringing in professional recovery interventionists? At South Florida Intervention, we have professionally trained interventionists to work with concerned parents and school educators. We all have a role to play in this addiction epidemic that is damaging our younger generation. Our recovery coaches can help educate both these young people and their parents. We take a non-confrontational approach, and we encourage parents to become more recovery-supportive. Over the years, we have helped many families to support their loved ones toward long-term sobriety. We can also connect school educators and parents with trusted health professionals in their community. Call us at (202) 390-2273.