Children, teens, and adolescents make up a key demographic that is at risk for substance use and addiction. This is especially true among at-risk children from dysfunctional family backgrounds.
Given the wide accessibility of substances, teens in their impressionable years are more vulnerable to peer pressure to experiment with substances such as prescription drugs, alcohol, or illicit drugs. Tragically, parents may not be the first to recognize the warning signs of teen addiction. Due to parental neglect or abuse, children’s substance-related issues may surface in school settings where they have a social life outside the home.
Parents, schools, and health professionals should work collaboratively to design addiction awareness and prevention campaigns for young people. If it takes a village to support a child, school-based programs can best serve the younger generation at a community level.
Education and Prevention Works
There is no denial that prevention through education and awareness programs work, including among working adults, young adults, and children. Many teenagers are given access to substances before they have any knowledge about the long-term negative effects.
Evidence-based prevention programs can dramatically reduce rates of substance use and addiction. These programs are also the most cost-effective ways to combat the epidemic of teen addiction.
Unfortunately, many adults in American families are failing their children. Whether due to divorce, abuse, domestic violence, or parental conflict, the home often becomes a stressor or risk factor, not a place to heal or support the younger generation. Some parents expose children to substance use through a lack of good role modeling.
Schools and educational institutions are the ideal places to organize substance prevention efforts. The teen addiction epidemic has become a public health issue that schools and educators must not ignore.
Integrated Models of School-based Prevention
We can imagine a range of social, emotional, and behavioral benefits of school-based prevention and education programs. By integrating a range of methods, including screening, awareness campaigns, mental health advocacy, and behavioral assessment and intervention, an integrated model of school-based prevention may address the multi-faceted nature of teen substance use.
Blending proven strategies may maximize the positive effects of prevention. For example, some social and behavioral learning principles can be combined with classroom-based strategies. Educators can take advantage of positive peer pressure in school to manage and educate students about potential risky behaviors. There are proven curricula that address students’ social-emotional needs.
Training for School Educators and Administrators
Teachers and staff should be the first to be educated about the long-term effects of substance use, the accessibility of substances in their community, warning signs in children, and intervention measures. Teachers should use an integrated intervention approach. Schools should also work with prevention and intervention health organizations to implement proven programs.
Many schools now have bullying-prevention programs, which are a part of the continuum of providing social and emotional care for students. Educators should extend these programs to a wider spectrum that can address other mental health-related issues among students before they become risk factors for substance use among teens. For older teenagers, educators can also build life skills and relationship skills into these programs.
Building a Triangular Support System
Families, schools, and public health institutions should work together to address the issue of teen addiction. With the opioid epidemic and the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on a young generation who have experienced social isolation, remote learning, and may have experienced increasing adult addiction problems in the home, this generation of teens and adolescents need a strong system to support them.
School education and prevention programs are also the best way to address the stigmatization of substance addiction. By openly discussing the harmful effects and deeper causes, the entire society can look at addiction from a public health standpoint without dehumanizing those who suffer from this disease. Students need to learn about how the family system and peer pressure play into the whole picture of developing substance use habits.
Education and prevention help address the root causes of substance addiction. Students may feel empowered when they are provided with effective preventative knowledge before they find themselves in tempting situations to experiment with drugs or alcohol. Young people also need to be educated about how substance addiction can be treated by addressing emotional health, mental health, and social needs.
The goal of such programs is for these young people to grow up to be not only responsible citizens for their health but also compassionate individuals who can support others without prejudice.