By Tim Wayne
Every day, nearly 7,800 students experiment with drugs for the first time; 12,500 drink alcohol for the first time. Well over half of all students will experiment with drugs or alcohol before maturing into young adults, which makes effective drug prevention policy and prevention messaging crucial for K–12 students.
School counselors can play a major role in ensuring that students abstain from substance abuse. Many students rely on their counselors to provide positive direction in avoiding risky lifestyle choices, such as drug use, so it is vital for counselors to learn to recognize the symptoms of substance abuse in students.
Many signs alert a counselor of a student’s substance abuse, such as:
- Sudden changes in grooming, sleeping, and eating habits
- Inattentiveness in class, unexplained absences, and dwindling academic performance
- Changing peer groups
- Increasing trouble with school officials or law enforcement
As school counselors, we are empowered to recognize and act on signs of drug abuse in our schools. Schoolwide substance abuse and prevention policies are a useful start, but policies only represent the beginning of what counselors can do to reduce drug abuse in schools.
Effective Communication Strategies
Prevention begins with good communication. According to surveys referenced in the infographic below, students often misunderstand the risks associated with the use of drugs, such as marijuana, heroin, and cocaine. Perhaps not so coincidentally, students today are less likely to report having been exposed to prevention messages at their schools than students ten years ago.
These statistics present a clear call for counselors to provide students with the knowledge and resources to resist substance abuse. With the help of tools like social media, counselors can more effectively reach students, educators, and peers to collaborate on drug policy and prevention messaging ideas and activities.
But counselors aren’t tasked with doing all of this alone. Effective drug prevention is a community effort that requires the involvement of parents, youth organizations, and law enforcement. While counselors can’t keep students safe in a bubble, they can orchestrate the community involvement students need so that kids receive appropriate and consistent drug prevention messaging across all parts of their lives.
Some specific strategies counselors can use to recruit their communities include working with mental health providers, and partnering with organizations such as the YMCA or local art centers. Parent groups, such as PTAs and PTOs, can also be highly effective for outreaching to students.
Learn more about the ways counselors can identify and help prevent youth substance abuse with the infographic below.
Tim Wayne writes in promotion of Bradley University’s Online Program in Professional School Counseling. He is interested in education, healthcare, and small business management. Tim is a professional blogger from Virginia Beach whose most recent works include several collaborations with educational and healthcare publications to discuss mental health issues.
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