Students struggle with drug abuse issues for many reasons. Seeking inclusion and release from social anxiety are significant contributors as teens develop a sense of adult identity. They also face pressures to exert control over decision making and independence. And sadly, alcohol and drug consumption often becomes part of this exploration.
I have found a helpful approach when it comes to this population:
Encourage students to explore identity, confidence, and validation by discovering their strengths and practicing those gifts in social situations. This allows for alignment and bonding, and it bolsters self-worth since it involves others of like mind and interest. This also offers a sense of accomplishment, thereby fulfilling the need to exert, or try on, adulthood.
Drug abuse prevention has become as common a school lesson as a math or history class. But for many students—who often see drugs glamorized in pop culture, on social media, and even in their own social circles—reading educational pamphlets or watching a sensationalized depiction of the dangers might not be enough to deter them. They need to hear real stories, from real people.
Luckily, many of these drug-use prevention ambassadors live in every community, providing an invaluable interactive resource for the classroom.
A police officer is one of the first drug abuse ambassadors a student will meet. Many elementary schools across the US participate in the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program, which is led by local officers and tailored specifically to elementary-age kids. These classes give students an early glimpse into the criminal justice system and its response to drug abuse before kids are faced with temptation and peer pressure in middle and high school.
Meanwhile, for older students, police officers can offer a graphic description of the legal consequences of drug use: Getting arrested, serving jail time, and building a criminal record that may haunt them forever. A police officer has the potential to instill a fear of repercussions in students who may otherwise think they’re untouchable.
Doctors, especially those who deal directly with addiction treatment, offer a unique view into the world of addiction: They’ve seen every kind of addiction and have heard every story. They can teach students about the damage that drug abuse causes on young brains and bodies while getting to the root sources of addictions. Most importantly, they’re educated on the best prevention methods.
Doctors also tend to approach drug addiction as less of a moral issue and more of a physiological one: They know the difference between a teen experimenting and a teen who has a disease that prevents them from “just saying no.” This is an important distinction for students to understand, and one that doctors can properly communicate.
While a teacher may seem like a counterintuitive choice for a drug-prevention ambassador—since students see them every day and may not take them as seriously as a police officer or a doctor—the student-teacher relationship is one that’s built over weeks, months, and even years. Teachers can recognize when a student is acting out of character. This puts teachers in a position to act as first responders; they can intervene before anyone else is brought into the situation. Chances are they’ve done it before at some point during their career.
No one knows how catastrophic drug use can be more than a former addict—especially those whose addiction began while they were still in school. They’ve experienced the irresistible urges, the exhilarating highs and the disastrous lows, and they’ve survived to share their story
so that others can avoid their mistakes. Police officers, teachers, and doctors may be able to offer useful facts, but these ambassadors can offer a firsthand look at addiction that others know little about.
Loved ones of addicts
Drug abuse affects not only the user, but mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, wives, husbands, and so many others. Not every addict lives to tell the story of their disease, but they do leave loved ones behind in their wake. If other ambassadors can’t appeal to a student’s common sense, hearing a story from a devastated mother who lost her child or a brother whose sibling is in jail can make one of the strongest cases against drug abuse.
About the Author
LCSW, is Clinical Director of Beach House Center for Recovery
, a drug and alcohol addiction rehabilitation center in Juno Beach, FL. She has more than 10 years’ experience in the mental health and substance-abuse arena, and supports healing in the clients she serves from a solution-focused, strengths-based approach. Also check out her 5 Ways to Help an Addict During Recovery