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School Safety Topics

Substance Abuse

Like alcohol, the misuse and abuse of illicit, prescription and over-the-counter drugs by children and adolescents are major public health issues, and a central theme in any discussion on school safety. Illegal and legal drugs affect both the body and brain, but the problems go well beyond health matters. Drugs and drug dealing in our schools are often associated with a range of additional concerns, including violence and mental health issues.

Understanding the Issue

Drugs are a pervasive part of society, and while they are the subject of much discussion in the media and in daily conversation, there are some inaccuracies. For example, from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), here are some things to consider:

  • You can’t predict the effect that a drug can have on you—especially if it’s the first time you try it, and even if it’s a small amount or dose. Everyone's brain and body chemistry are different. Everyone's tolerance for drugs is different.
  • Using drugs can lead to abuse, addiction, serious health problems and even death.
  • Drugs that are legal—prescription and over-the counter (OTC) medications—can be just as dangerous as illegal drugs.
  • What drugs are the most commonly abused?
    Each year, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) tracks drug use trends among students in grades 8, 10 and 12.

    The following is a list of the most commonly abused drugs among 12th graders, starting with the most frequent: marijuana; Vicodin, amphetamines, cough medicine, Adderall, tranquilizers, salvia, hallucinogens, OxyContin, sedatives, MDMA/ecstasy, inhalants, cocaine and Ritalin.
  • How pervasive is drug use among teens?
    Even though it might seem as if "everyone is doing it", they're not. In fact, most kids go all the way through high school without trying drugs or getting drunk. A recent national survey (Monitoring the Future) of 12th graders showed:
    • 53.3% never used any illegal drug.
    • 58% never smoked marijuana.
    • 90.5% never did inhalants.
    • 90.7% never did tranquilizers.
    • 91.8% never did barbiturates.
    • 93.5% never did ecstasy.
    • 94% never did cocaine.
    • 96.1% never did LSD.
    • 97.6% never did methamphetamine.
    • 98.8% never did heroin.
  • Can you get addicted even though you only do it once in a while?
    YES. For most, addiction to alcohol and drugs is a process - not an event. Most people who use alcohol and drugs do so with an intention of only using once or “once in a while.” No one decides that they want to become addicted to alcohol and drugs. But, we are dealing with addictive drugs that directly affect the brain. It is easy for occasional use to change to frequent use or constant use--that is addiction. The only thing we know for sure: if you don't drink alcohol and don’t do drugs, you definitely won't become addicted.

    Source: National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc.
  • Why is adolescence a critical time for preventing drug addiction?
    From Phoenix House drug and alcohol treatment centers:

    Judgment and decision-making skills are still developing in teens, so their ability to assess risks accurately and make sound decisions about using drugs may be limited. Drug and alcohol abuse can disrupt brain function in areas critical to motivation, memory, learning, judgment, and behavior control. So, it is not surprising that teens who abuse alcohol and other drugs often have family and school problems, poor academic performance, health-related problems (including mental health), and involvement with the juvenile justice system.