ERIC Identifier: ED279644
Publication Date: 1986-00-00
Author: Barrett, Joan
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Teacher Education Washington DC.
Drug Abuse: Prevention Strategies for Schools. ERIC Digest 17.
Drugs threaten our nation's youth. The average age of initial marijuana
use has dropped to 11 (Towers, 1987). During a 30-day period in 1985, 65 percent
of high school seniors drank alcohol, 30 percent used marijuana, 15 percent
snorted cocaine (Tarlov and others, 1986). Drug abuse can lead to physical
problems, emotional damage, and a decline in educational achievement and
productivity. Efforts to fight drug abuse must occur in the schools since they
provide a major influence in transmitting values, standards, and information to
children (U.S. Department of Education, 1986). This digest discusses the extent
of drug abuse among youth, why drug abuse occurs, the effects of drug abuse,
what schools can do to combat the problem, prevention programs, what teachers
and principals can do, and future needs for drug abuse prevention programs.
EXTENT OF DRUG ABUSE AMONG YOUTH
Teenage drug use in the United States is the highest of any industrialized
nation (U.S. Department of Education, 1986). Sixty-one percent of high school
seniors have used drugs. During the last decade the percentage of children using
drugs by sixth grade has tripled.
Alcohol, an illegal drug for minors, represents an even more serious problem
than drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and amphetamines (EDUCATION WEEK, 8
October 1986). The average age for beginning alcohol consumption is 12, and
approximately 20 percent of U.S. high school students drink alcohol daily
All communities throughout the United States, urban and suburban, show a high
use of illicit drugs (U.S. Department of Education, 1986). More males use drugs
than females, but the gap between the two has become smaller.
WHY DRUG ABUSE OCCURS
Studies show peer pressure plays the largest role in causing children to
begin using drugs (Englander-Golden, 1984); Towers, 1987; U.S. Department of
Education, 1986). Acceptance by peers becomes especially important when children
leave elementary schools and begin junior high. At this critical age,
"adolescents seem to be either unwilling or unable to successfully resist peer
pressure in substance abuse situations" (Englander-Golden, 1984).
Other reasons for taking drugs include the constant exposure to our chemical
society of pills and liquor through ads, movies, and television; a need to
experiment; rebelliousness; and low self-esteem. Often simple pleasure serves as
a motive. The user may feel good after taking drugs but may be unable to enjoy
activities such as hobbies and sports (Towers, 1987).
EFFECTS OF DRUG ABUSE
Drugs produce many effects, including distortion of memory, perceptions, and
sensation (U.S. Department of Education, 1986). For example, cocaine and
amphetamines give users a false sense of performing at a high level when on the
drug. So-called designer drugs, chemical variations of illegal drugs, have
caused brain damage and death (Towers, 1987).
Frequent drug users skip school or arrive late to class (Wagner, 1984).
Regular marijuana users are twice as likely as their classmates to receive low
grades (U.S. Department of Education, 1986). Continued marijuana use can cause
memory gaps and also lead to decreased physical endurance (Wagner, 1984).
Marijuana users often develop sinusitis, pharyngitis, bronchitis, and emphysema
within a year of beginning use (Wagner, 1984).
Experimenting with drugs, particularly at a young age, often leads to
dependence (Towers, 1987). Those dependent on drugs sometimes support their
habits by stealing, selling drugs to others, and sexually prostituting
WHAT SCHOOLS CAN DO
Early intervention and prevention activities should characterize a school's
drug abuse program (Towers, 1987). School administrators should determine the
extent of the drug problem within their jurisdiction before initiating a new
intervention program. This can be accomplished by an anonymous survey of
students and consultation with local law enforcement officials. Collaborative
plans should be made with parents, school boards, treatment agencies, and
concerned groups within the community to ensure successful programs.
The U.S. Department of Education (1986) further recommends that school
officials establish clear, consistently enforced drug-use policies that specify
drug offenses, consequences (including notification of police), and procedures.
Security measures should be implemented to eliminate drugs from school premises
and school functions. A comprehensive drug curriculum from kindergarten through
grade 12 is needed. Teachers should receive appropriate training to participate
in the program.
School systems generally combine two approaches to preventing drug abuse
(Lachance, 1985). One emphasizes discipline - what school personnel should do
when drug abuse or peddling is encountered at the school. The other concerns
education - instructing students about drugs and helping them develop skills and
attitudes that will keep them away from drugs.
Programs popular in the 1960s and 1970s that focused only on drug information
have been shown to be of questionable value (Lachance, 1985). Research reviews
indicate the two most promising prevention approaches are the social influences
model and a strategy that emphasizes personal and social skills training
(Botvin, 1986). The social influences model teaches skills for resisting drug
use. The personal and social skills approach expands the social influences model
to include skills in problem solving, decision making, assertiveness, and
conversation as well as strategies for reducing stress. Both approaches have led
to significant reductions in cigarette smoking. Preliminary evidence suggests
the approaches also work to reduce marijuana use and excessive drinking.
"Saying No" is one example of a drug abuse prevention program that emphasizes
teaching students to resist peer pressure by understanding and practicing
reasons for not taking drugs (Lachance, 1985). The approach, targeted to sixth,
seventh, and eighth graders, uses methods such as role modeling, videotaped
practice, and assertiveness training to help students learn how to refuse drugs.
The National Institute of Drug Abuse sponsors "Just Say No" clubs that offer
booklets, pins, and T-shirts (Towers, 1987). Members find that the clubs give
them a reason and way to say no.
WHAT TEACHERS AND PRINCIPALS CAN DO
Teachers exert a significant influence on students' attitudes, knowledge, and
opinions. They can complement a school's drug abuse program by incorporating
drug abuse prevention strategies into their subject at any grade level (Towers,
1987). For example, teachers can structure activities that require students to
consider several options before making a decision. This classroom practice will
increase the students' ability to identify options in other situations. The
National Institute on Drug Abuse (1980) provides prevention ideas that can be
incorporated into existing junior high school curricula. Towers (1987) lists
additional in-class prevention activities for all grade levels.
In addition, teachers must inform students that they disapprove of drug abuse
(Towers, 1987). Remaining quiet gives the impression of approval or unconcern.
Students should be told that they will be reported if they come to school in
possession of drugs or under their influence.
Any teacher who believes a student is abusing drugs should take action
(Towers, 1987). Signs that may indicate drug abuse include redness around the
eyes, dramatically changed appearance such as dirty hair, dilated pupils,
reduced motivation, slurred speech, short attention span, changes in school
attendance, falling grades, and uncompleted assignments (Towers, 1987; U.S.
Department of Education, 1986; Wagner, 1984). The first step when suspecting
drug abuse is to notify the appropriate school committee if one exists.
Otherwise, the teacher should express concern to the student and to the parents,
citing observed behaviors (Towers, 1987). Students who have been abusing drugs
should be referred to professionals for help.
Intervention strategies must be supported by the school principal (Towers,
1987). Principals need to provide opportunities for teachers to meet for
discussions about drug use and how they can fight the problem. They must inform
students and parents that teachers have been authorized to communicate their
concern. They need to have professionals available to counsel students. Finally,
principals should follow up with students and/or parents after school personnel
Today only 27 states have mandatory K-12 drug abuse prevention programs
(National Association of State Boards of Education, 1986). Most states do not
collect information on the programs nor evaluate their effectiveness. The
prevention models that have shown promise need further research. A database is
needed about the status and success of drug abuse prevention programs in each
school so decisions can be made about allocating resources.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Botvin, Gilbert J. "Substance Abuse Prevention Research: Recent Developments
and Future Directions." JOURNAL OF SCHOOL HEALTH 56 (1986): 369-374.
"Drug Education: Search for Success Continues." EDUCATION WEEK, 8 Oct. 1986:
Englander-Golden, Paula, and others. SAY IT STRAIGHT: ADOLESCENT SUBSTANCE
ABUSE PREVENTION TRAINING. 1984. ED 250 588.
Lachance, Laurie L. SUBSTANCE ABUSE PREVENTION IN THE SCHOOLS. 1985. ED 264
National Association of State Boards of Education. ALCOHOL AND DRUG ABUSE
PREVENTION EDUCATION: SURVEY OF THE STATES. Alexandria, Virginia: National
Association of State Boards of Education, 1986.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. SAYING NO: DRUG ABUSE PREVENTION IDEAS FOR
THE CLASSROOM. 1980. ED 203 260.
Tarlov, Alvin R., and Rebecca W. Rimel. "Drug Abuse Prevention--The
Sponsoring Foundations' Perspective." JOURNAL OF SCHOOL HEALTH 56 (1986): 358.
Towers, Richard L. HOW SCHOOLS CAN HELP COMBAT STUDENT DRUG AND ALCOHOL
ABUSE. Washington, DC: National Education Association of the United States,
U.S. Department of Education. SCHOOLS WITHOUT DRUGS. Washington, DC: U.S.
Department of Education, 1986. ED 270 715.
Wagner, Brenda J. "Intervening with the Adolescent Involved in Substance
Abuse." JOURNAL OF SCHOOL HEALTH 54 (1984): 244-246.