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In most cases, students spend more time in the classroom than they do with their parents each school week. Therefore, teachers are sometimes the first to notice indicators of adolescent substance use/misuse. Substance use/misuse may be detected early in students, which is why teachers must be on the lookout for the warning signs, in order to help connect students with the help they need as early as possible.

This presents challenges since the earliest indications may be difficult to identify. Mood swings are also common in teenagers, as their hormones are rushing at an accelerated rate. It is thus critical to distinguish between ordinary adolescent behaviour and signs of substance dependency.

Certain symptoms, according to experts, are more indicative of addiction than others. Teachers can better assist their students if they have a deeper understanding of them. The following is a list of warning indicators that teachers should be aware of:

  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities

  • Relationship changes, such as abandoning old friends in favour of new ones

  • Despondent, angry and/or aggressive

  • Sleeping for extended durations

  • Disobeying or breaking rules

  • Physical changes such as rapid weight loss, frequent nosebleeds, bloodshot or watery eyes, or shaking and tremors

It is crucial for teachers to know what to do and what to avoid when it comes to identifying and dealing with teenage substance use/misuse.

What to do:

  1. Learn the classic signs of adolescent substance use/misuse

  2. In a non-judgmental and positive manner, describe the changes you've noticed in your student

  3. Pay attention to what your student has to say and have an open mind while you do so

  4. Make use of professionals such as school counsellors and nurses in order to provide the best possible support

  5. Encourage students to participate in worthwhile extracurricular activities outside of the classroom

  6. Integrate substance use/misuse prevention techniques into daily teaching to further reduce the likelihood of other students using/misusing substances

What to avoid:

  1. No matter how well-intentioned, avoid crossing any student/teacher boundaries

  2. Avoid administering non-constructive punishment

  3. Avoid allowing yourself to get carried away or give in to emotions

  4. Avoid diagnosing students, leave that to professionals


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