There are many ways that students might be introduced to substances, but preventive measures can be taken to help reduce the number who choose to engage in use. Schools, including all faculty and staff, can be involved in prevention education. Here are five ways to reduce substance use.
Substance abuse may occur due to students facing internal, social, or even familial difficulties or conflicts. Some things to look out for in elementary-aged students are developmental delays, impaired school performance, speech and language problems, and difficulty making decisions. Younger children may have difficulty expressing how they're feeling and could subconsciously communicate through delays in motor skills or even self-regulation. In older students, around middle or high school age, you should be aware of students with mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, those who have sudden changes in mood, those with poor hygiene or attendance, and those with unhealthy relationships with peers or family.
Each school district should have resources available to help with education or support for students who may be struggling with or contemplating substance use. Some schools may have access to educational flyers or brochures, videos, presentations, or outside contacts such as hotlines, counselors, or prevention programs. Each district may have different resources available, so it's important to check with administrators or district superintendents to see what they can provide. There may also be resources for families, such as workshops, support groups, parental/family blogs, and/or day-programs.
Students feel safer approaching teachers, staff, and others who they trust and have built a connection with. Most likely, students will not approach anyone they don't know well or they don't trust. So, it would be helpful if staff, such as school counselors, nurses, and administrators began building connections with students early on through morning greetings as they walk into school, events, programs, or through visits in classrooms. Each staff member may be able to offer different methods or resources that can support students. However, the largest form of support is being there for students and showing them that they are cared for and that they matter.
Students of all ages face tough situations and stress in their lives that they may not be equipped to handle in a safe way. If schools address mental health, ways to deal with conflict, loss, grief, or stress, this can help prevent some students from turning to substances as a solution. It would be beneficial for students to learn skills such as self-control, standing up to peer pressure, managing time well, and setting goals. As mental health issues in younger generations are becoming more prominent, especially amidst the pandemic, it is crucial for schools to address this and offer resources and support to help struggling students.
Students may benefit from having several opportunities throughout the year to engage in prevention education. They can learn life skills like anger management and decision-making, connect with community members and resources, and learn media literacy in regard to recognizing messages of substance abuse that may come across through music, TV/movies, and social media platforms. If you're looking for an effective and research-based prevention program for students, Wellspring Center for Prevention has programs that teach life skills, as well as provide opportunities for schools and their surrounding community to engage in positive experiences together. Visit our website for more information.