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How Teachers Can Help Prevent Substance Abuse

canstockphoto2086068Among the concerns faced by teachers and others who work with youth is substance abuse. Drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and abuse of other substances both legal and illegal, can have significant negative effects on the life of a youth. From a teacher’s perspective, the substance abuse may manifest itself in many ways, such as behavioural problems and poor academic performance.

Teachers take an evidence-based approach to their profession, while maintaining an individual-based approach in their everyday work. For example, an Alberta government survey indicates that the vast majority of students do not abuse substances like tobacco, alcohol and illegal drugs, suggesting a situation far from what the public might perceive as “rampant” substance abuse amongst youth. Nonetheless, teachers are naturally and rightfully concerned about those few students among the ones they teach whose substance abuse and addiction will not only affect their academic performance but every aspect of their lives.

Show Caring and Concern

There are numerous actions teachers can take to help their students with substance abuse or addiction problems. For example, they can simply show these students their caring and concern.  A study conducted at Seattle Children’s Research Institute showed that students who received support from middle school teachers were less inclined towards early alcohol abuse.

School as Community

Teachers can also help develop and nurture the idea of school as a community. This creates a sense of belonging, attachment and protection for students, which counteracts tendencies towards abuse of drugs and other substances. This article by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health suggests the following actions teachers can take to turn a school into a community:

  • Set clear classroom boundaries with clear rules and consequences
  • Encourage a constructive use of time
  • Foster an environment that encourages a commitment to learning
  • Encourage reading for pleasure
  • Praise student’s achievements and accomplishments
  • Acknowledge successes and abilities
  • Model a sense of optimism and a positive view of learning
  • Keep the channels of communication open
  • Be a good listener
  • Keep an open mind
  • Ask students for opinions
  • Encourage participation in extra curricular activities

Take Action

As a final example, teachers can take actions shown to be effective in preventing substance abuse. In this paper by the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, there are a number of “calls to action”, including pairing appropriate services with each age group, putting effective services into place, and continually becoming more knowledgeable.

The John Howard Society of Alberta also believes knowledge is a vital part of prevention. As part of its educational module collection, the Society maintains and provides documents, information and a list of external links on this topic, including a document for teachers with general information on drugs. We will continue to update these materials, and to develop new ones, in the hope that will be useful for teachers as they learn and take actions in order to prevent substance abuse among their students.