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Schools and Substance Abuse in J&K

By Wasim Kakroo

SCHOOL is an important part of a child/adolescent’s life. A school going child or teenager spends around one-third of each workday at school, or longer if they participate in extracurricular activities. A positive school experience entails not only receiving a high-quality academic education, but also being a part of a friendly, inclusive, and encouraging school community. School is a place where you can interact with new people; understand the meaning of friendships, form new social circles, and try out new hobbies and other activities.
The health and well-being of students is influenced by a multitude of complex and interwoven factors in the school environment. A significant portion of social learning occurs outside the premises of the classroom on the school playground. Positive relationships with peers, teachers, sports coaches, and other school employees can influence a young person's growth and development.

Students may benefit from a better school culture in other ways, such as less/no bullying and increased physical activity. By experiencing a sense of belonging and connection to their school, as well as having strong positive role models, young people can be shielded from the dangers of alcohol and other drugs who otherwise are very vulnerable to substance abuse.

How can teachers and the school environment affect substance abuse among school going children?

A major part of a student's day is spent at school. The school environment serves as a yardstick by which youngsters measure their own behavior. Preadolescents and adolescents typically use school staff as very influential role models against which to assess themselves. Adolescents who believe their teachers care about them are less likely to start using cannabis, smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, and engaging in other risky behaviors that can harm their health. For many children, especially middle school students, relationships with their teachers and school counselors are among the most crucial and influential. Students who have a strained relationship with their school are also less likely to notice that substance abuse may jeopardize their ability to achieve their future goals.

Adolescents are among the most vulnerable groups of any human population that may fall prey to substance abuse. This is especially true for adolescents who are from broken families or disadvantaged communities. This is due to the fact that adolescents are impressionable and susceptible to outside influences. As a result, without proper guidance, students, especially adolescents are more likely to turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with the stress and anxiety of everyday life. Because of the daily hardships that they face on a regular basis, children who come from broken or violent homes are significantly more vulnerable to substance abuse.

Schools are in a unique position to assist students in their efforts to combat substance abuse. They can not only reach a huge section of the youth in a systematic manner, but they can also teach them early on before they are exposed to numerous circumstances or substances, and they can offer a variety of preventative and education programmes related to substance abuse. While it is very important for parents to participate in educating their children about drug and alcohol abuse, schools can provide much more extensive and organized programmes. Integrating such types of programs into the curriculum is vital because it delivers a full training on the risks of substances to a diverse group of children from varied socio-economic strata.

In addition to preventing children from becoming involved in substance abuse in the first place, addiction education and prevention may also assist those who are already involved in it in seeking treatment or quitting.

Schools, in partnership with mental health professionals such as psychiatrists, clinical psychologists etc. may get well equipped to identify students exhibiting signs and symptoms of substance abuse. Poor school performance, underachievement, and truancy may indicate the need for evaluation and referral of these students to mental health care facilities such as hospitals with psychiatry departments, Drug De-addiction Centers, or mental health professionals working in private, where the causes of such behaviors can be determined. In any such case, mental health care providers can screen for substance abuse and analyze its history using the screening methods and resources available.

What strategies can school administrators and teachers employ to prevent substance abuse among children and adolescents?

All middle and high school students who seem to show erratic behaviors such as poor school performance, underachievement, and truancy should be subjected to random drug testing. The type of screening that can be done may include the use of urine drug screening kits readily available in markets. Punitive measures, additional student assessment, counseling, treatment, and/or rehabilitation, referral to a mental health professional may be implemented in case of a positive drug test result while keeping the privacy and confidentiality of the information into consideration.

Offering after-school programmes, incorporating life-skills training and addiction education into school curricula, assisting parents in becoming better informed, providing counseling, identifying problem behaviours for early intervention, and immediately referring students to mental health professionals for assessment and intervention are the various strategies that schools can use to address the issue of substance abuse. Students in need of such treatment regimens should be counseled by school-based mental health facilities, which should also connect them to community resources such as rehabilitation centers, district hospitals or mental health professionals working in private.

Schools are ideal locations for drug prevention programs for three reasons:

(1) Prevention must work on children before they develop their beliefs and expectations about substance abuse;
(2) Schools are the most efficient means of reaching out to young people; and
(3) Schools can promote a wide range of policies related to prevention of substance abuse.

Educators face a difficult task in making drug usage information relevant to children and adolescents without tempting them to try drugs and hence addiction related curriculum needs to be introduced in schools. Addiction-related curriculum for use in schools should be effective and provided to children in a fun, participatory, and developmentally appropriate manner. Such programs should aim to improve students' problem-solving abilities or assist them in evaluating the influence of media on their choices. Such programmes should aim to boost students' self-esteem, reduce stress and anxiety, and enhance their participation in extracurricular activities. Demonstrations, practise, feedback, and praise should all be used to teach these skills.

Another proven strategy that might help is the use of “life-skills training,” designed to teach skills to tackle a problem-specific focus, emphasising the application of skills directly to the problem of substance abuse. Drug-refusal skills should be taught with normal personal and social skills training. There's a good likelihood that such training will have a positive impact on alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drug usage.

What are the various characteristics of a good school-based drug prevention program?

Drug abuse among teenagers is a widespread problem that affects countries all over the world. This happens for a variety of reasons, and hence no single factor can stop it from happening. However, most effective drug prevention programmes have a few elements in common. Below is a list of some of them.

1. Students must feel linked to their teachers, instructors, friends, and peers in a good drug prevention program. Students must feel a sense of belonging to their school. A child or adolescent who believes that his teachers and peers are concerned about him, his education, and his well-being is less likely to use drugs or alcohol to cope with his issues. This link also encourages children to open up and express themselves in class, allowing teachers to spot at-risk students early on and intervene to help them avoid addiction.

2. Children should be taught, in developmentally appropriate ways, the adverse effects of various substances as well as the laws (both local and national) governing substance abuse as part of their health education. The development of decision-making and self-management abilities in the participating students should be a part of this health education.

3. Teachers and instructors working in the drug prevention programme must use the world-class teaching resources at their disposal to get the message across. Such resources can be searched for from online.

4. Such prevention programmes should attempt to address all forms of substance abuse, whether alone or in combination, including juvenile use of legal drugs (e.g., tobacco or alcohol), illegal drug use (e.g., marijuana or heroin), or the unauthorized use of lawfully obtained substances, such as prescription drugs.

5. Such programmes should try to include and bring onboard parents, religious leaders and other resources in the community in order to ask for help from all possible corners.

6. To address risk factors for drug abuse, such as early aggressiveness, academic failure, and school dropout, prevention programmes for elementary school students should focus on increasing academic and social-emotional learning. The following skills should be emphasized in school education:

• a sense of self-control
• a sense of emotional awareness
• a sense of assertive communication
• a sense of social problem-solving
• academic support

7. Students in middle and high school should be taught the following skills to improve their academic and social competence:

• Study habits and academic support
• Assertive communication skills
• peer interactions
• self-efficacy
• drug resistance skills
• anti-drug attitudes
• commitments against drug abuse

How can teachers deliver drug education in the classroom?

The goal of drug education is to change students' values, attitudes, knowledge, and abilities so they can make better judgments about the abuse of alcohol and other drugs. Best-practice drug education is guided by a set of principles. It should be:

1. properly timed so that students obtain accurate information and build up skills before they need them

2. delivered by teachers who have received appropriate training from mental health professionals

3. involve students in the development of skills such as decision-making and assertiveness

4. relevant to real life real with real life based facts, such as the number of young people who use alcohol and other drugs in the locality and the way it affects them.

Some teaching approaches are not recommended, including:

1. long moralistic lecture-style lessons with little or no student participation

2. scare tactics that make false claims or overstate the risk of harm.

It's important to avoid stigmatizing people through language or imagery who use drugs, such as characterising them as "dirty" or portraying extreme images of people who may have used drugs to show how it affects their body.

Students may have a family member who has struggled with addiction or may require assistance themselves. If drug use is stigmatized in the classroom, such students may feel too embarrassed to seek help.

Substance abuse can be one of the most difficult mental health issues for a person to deal with. It has the potential to completely destroy a person's career, education, relationships, and family life. This is why it is critical that children are informed about this at a young age, and that anyone who is currently struggling receives the help they require. Schools if equipped with the basic addiction education and strategies can play a phenomenal role in dealing with this menace.

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer

  • The author is a licensed clinical psychologist (alumni of Govt. Medical College Srinagar). He can be reached at 8825067196.

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