The public portrayal of American teenagers in television and media would have you believe that every high school student is consuming alcohol underage or dabbling in drug use. In reality, illicit drug use is at the lowest level it has been in more than 20 years — with 6.1% of 8th graders, 9.6% of 10th graders and 12.4% of 12th graders using drugs over the past year.
These numbers reflect significant decreases from even five years ago. The progress path is very encouraging, but as these numbers indicate, there’s still a problem to be addressed. How can we continually help these numbers drop, and how can we spot the warning signs that may be right in front of us with our own children? Let’s explore.
Why Children May Turn to Drugs in School
There are two repeat offender pressures pushing kids toward drug use during primary education years: peer and academic. Of course, these factors are not the only ones leading students down the wrong path. It may stem from curiosity, wanting to escape difficulties at home or even the desire to relieve boredom. More information about each specific pressure follows:
- Peer pressure: Peer pressure may be one of the biggest factors that push children to use drugs. Pre-adolescent and adolescent children are particularly vulnerable, as they wrestle with finding their identities, searching for a sense of belonging and deciding who they want to become. The longing to belong to a specific group, the pressure to be accepted and the desire to be seen as grown up and independent often play a major role in convincing kids to use drugs.
- Academic pressure: Students who feel overwhelmed by the pressure to perform well in school and succeed academically may be more inclined to turn to drugs to help them cope with stress. If they feel tired and anxious about their grades, applications or overall achievements in school, they may seek performance-enhancing drugs to provide focus and energy. When overused or taken improperly, these drugs can become addictive.
Warning Signs to Look For
The telltale symptoms may be different according to their age. Here are some common warning signs that substance abuse in school is occurring.
Elementary school students may exhibit:
- Poor or delayed mental and motor development
- Problems with memory, perception, speech or language
- Impaired self-regulation and decision-making
- Reduced school performance
Middle school students may show the following signs:
- Anxiety and depression
- An attitude of secrecy
- Deteriorating physical appearance
- Mood swings
- Declining academic performance
High school students are often likely to display:
- Mood swings
- Unhealthy shifts in relationships
- Deteriorating health and personal hygiene
- Declining academic performance or attendance
Ways to Prevent Drug Abuse in Schools
Schools are hard at work to curb this issue and continue to see a declining rate of drug use. Common strategies offered to educators help to target the factors influencing students to turn to drugs. Teachers, administrators and other individuals are taught to harness all available resources to prevent or treat the problem. Some of these methods include:
- Pinpointing available resources in your school or district
- Involving school counselors or administrators to create support plans for students
- Knowing the common signs of substance abuse so that you can recognize it if you see it
- Heightening drug awareness in schools
- Incorporating drug prevention skills into classroom teaching to equip students to make good decisions
- Providing students with alternate coping skills so that they know they have other options for stress management
Even with all the progress schools have made to target this issue, you may still want professional outside help to give you the resources you need. Contact Gateway Foundation if you have concerns about drug abuse with someone you love. We’re here to help.