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Teens and Drug Use Impact on Learning

written by: Finn Orfano • edited by: Wendy Finn • updated: 9/11/2012

How does drug use impact learning? Teens and drug use behaviors often lead to problems in the classroom. Read on to learn how to help especially if you are a mandated reporter such as a teacher or counselor.

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    Drug Use

    The National Institute on Drug Abuse reported teenage drug use statistics from the ‘Monitoring the Future Study’ that they conducted. They found that 19.6% of 8th graders, 34.1% of 10th graders, and 47.4% of 12 graders used any illicit drug over their lifetime in 2008. These findings make it appear that the assumption of “not my kid," a belief held by many, could be a huge minimization of the problem of teens and drug use today.

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    Types of Drugs

    When referring to drugs, alcohol is included in this term. Although often separated “drugs and alcohol", alcohol is a drug and will be referred to as a drug in this article. In addition to alcohol, the more common drugs used are marijuana, cocaine, inhalants, hallucinogens such as LSD and “mushrooms", opioids such as heroin and prescription pain killers, and club drugs such as ecstasy.

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    Common “Red-Flags"

    Students that are using drugs may display warning signs or “red-flags," which may aid a teacher or a counselor in recognition. These “red-flags" are to act as a general guide; they are in no way definite examples of signs of drug use and should not be taken literally. Doing so could risk over-looking students who may not display these examples listed, but are still in need of help.

    • Smelling of Alcohol or Marijuana
    • Red-eyes or repeated use of eye-drops
    • Shaking, inability to sit still
    • Sluggish, slurring of words
    • Frequent absences
    • Bragging about their using adventures to other classmates
    • Changes in grades or outlook on school towards the negative
    • Dropping out of after-school activities
    • Acting out/delinquent behavior
    • Arrested for possession of illegal substance
    • Hangover like symptoms
    • Short or long term memory loss
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    What to Do?

    If there is a student you suspect of using drugs you can and should offer help to the student. First and foremost if you are a teacher, follow protocol of your state and school district, and notify the correct parties. In certain cases legal action is taken against the student. Sometimes the only way a person will enter into a therapeutic program is if strongly motivated, such as by the legal system. In addition to this you could discuss your concerns with the student. Learn and spread the message about self-help group programs like Alateen, Alcoholics Anonymous, and Narcotics Anonymous in your community to allow the student informational access for these support groups. Learn about the Chemical Dependency Therapeutic Clinics in your area and offer a referral for the student, pending departmental policy a school psychologist or counselor may be the one to make the referral. Unfortunately many people are unfamiliar with self-help group meetings and local clinic information and do not receive help because of this simple barrier.

    Teens using drugs could cause major problems in the classroom. As noted above, if under the influence or recovering from recent use, a student will most likely not be able to focus on school with the same clarity as they did before they picked up that first drug. The outcomes of many students using drugs often result of the student failing a class, failing a grade or failing or dropping out of school altogether. Although there may be many reasons for a student’s interest in school declining, the possibility of drug use as a factor should never be overlooked.

Looking Deeper Into Issues Many Teenage Students Face

In this series you will find information on various teenage student issues that may cause barriers to learning in the classroom.
  1. Looking Deeper into Typical Teenage Behavioral Issues Students Face
  2. Signs of Domestic Violence in the Classroom
  3. Teens and Drug Use Impact on Learning
  4. Teens with Eating Disorders: A Classroom Concern
  5. Suicidal Ideations and Teenage Students