Alcohol Abuse Among our Nation s Youth What to do as educators

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1 Alcohol Abuse Among our Nation s Youth What to do as educators The devastating rate of drug and alcohol abuse by American youth is cause for alarm and its prevention and treatment remains one of our nation s top priorities. Research indicates that youth who engage in the early use of alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana are more likely to engage in other harmful behaviors such as crime, delinquency, and other illegal drug use. For this reason, parents, teachers, law enforcement officers, health care professional, and community leaders must continue to actively communicate to our nation s youth that drug and alcohol abuse is dangerous and prevents millions of people from reaching their full potential. Rep. Tom Osborne (NE), in a speech given in 2004, echoes concerns that many adults have in regard to the use of alcohol by minors in America 1 1

2 The Problem In a study conducted by the national Survey on Drug Use and Health, researchers found that: Everyday in the United States, roughly 7000 adolescents, under the age of sixteen, take their first drink of alcohol. 2 64% of eighth-graders and 84% of tenth-graders believe that alcohol is readily available to them and almost 20% of eighth-graders and 42% of tenth graders have been drunk at least once in their lives. 3. Of the people who began drinking before the age of fourteen, 47% became dependent at some point, compared with 9% of those who began drinking at age twenty-one or older. 4 In relation to gender, recent studies show that adolescent girls now report they consume almost as much alcohol as 2

3 boys, 36.2% and 36.3%, respectively. 5 Rates of alcohol use differ by race and ethnicity. Among students in grades nine to twelve, 29% of non-hispanic white students participated in drinking while ll.1% of African Americans and 25.3% of Hispanics reported drinking within that same age group. 6 In Our Schools Because research has shown that the human brain continues to develop into the early twenties and that adolescence is a key point in time in which a person s cognitive skills progress, the use of alcohol during this time is likely to stunt the mental growth process. There is strong evidence suggesting that peer pressure and the desire to fit in are key factors in relation to an adolescent s motivation to partake in drinking. One study also showed that students who feel socially accepted at school who report that teachers treat them fairly are much less likely to use alcohol. 7 3

4 As A Teacher What to Watch For Signs of Teenage Alcohol Abuse 8 School: decreased interest, negative attitude, drop in grades, many absences, truancy, and discipline problems Physical: Fatigue, repeated health complaints, red glazed eyes, and a lasting cough. Emotional: personality change, sudden mood changes, irritability, irresponsible behavior, low selfesteem, poor judgment, depression, and a general lack of interest. 4

5 Family: starting arguments, breaking rules, or withdrawing from the family. Social problems: new friends who are less interested in standard home and school activities, problems with the law, and changes to less conventional styles in dress and music. It is important to keep in mind that just because a child exhibits some of the symptoms listed above; it does not necessarily mean that he or she is using drugs. These behaviors may in fact be reflective of any of a number of possibilities. The presence of some of these behaviors could be the product of adolescent stress, symptoms of depression, or a host of other problems. Whatever the cause, they may warrant attention, especially if they persist or if they occur in a cluster. A mental health professional or a caring and concerned adult may help a youngster successfully overcome a crisis and develop more effective coping skills, often preventing further problems 9 What to Do? Suggested actions to take if you suspect a student of abusing Alcohol Consult with your school psychologist, principal, or counselor (These professionals may want to coach you as to what to say or may prefer to talk with the student directly). See if your school has an existing policy (become familiar with the referral process). 5

6 Familiarize yourself with what follow up programs are available to students. 10 Be proactive! See how your school would like you to handle the subject if it comes up. 11 Prepare student s work for when they are at treatment. 12 TAKE ACTION! Do not be afraid that you may be wrong or that you may be overreacting (It is better to be safe than sorry, especially when referring to the well being of your students). Prevention in Our Schools As a teacher, you can play an important role in preventing underage drinking. In the school setting, children draw conclusions about alcohol use from what they see and hear about alcohol from their friends, classmates, and teachers. 13 Assess Student drinking to determine the extent of the problem. Find out what factors may be contributing to student drinking in your school or community (e.g., easy access to alcohol, peer pressure, adults failure to address the issue, etc.). Determine what steps are being taken within your school system to help young people resist the pressure to drink. Develop and active partnership with the families of your students. * All bullet points 14 6

7 For additional information on alcohol abuse, please refer to the following sites American council for Drug Education American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry: (Enter alcohol abuse in search engine) Alcohol Free Children: school Developed by Michael J. Kehoe 1 Osborne, Tom Rep.(NE-03). Washington Round-Up. Week of October 25, Groefer, J. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Calculated by using the 2003 National Survey on Drug Use and Health iv 3 Johnston LD O Malley PM, Bachman JG, and Schulenberg JE. 2006, Monitoring the Future National Results on Adolescent Drug Use: Overview of Key Findings, Bethesda, Md. National Institute on Drug Abuse. 4 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance United States, Morbidity and Morality Weekly Report: CDC Surveillance Summaries 55(SS-5): Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Centers for Disease Control and Prevention The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University Malignant Neglect: Substance Abuse and America s Schools. New York: Columbia University. Resnick MD, Bearman PS, Blum RW, et al Protecting Adolescents From Harm: National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health. Journal for the American Medical Association 278(10): American Council for Drug Education, x Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol Free 9 American Council for Drug Education, x Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol Free 10 Daniel Cates, Ph.D (December, 2006). 11 Cates, (December, 2006). 12 Cates, (December, 2006). 13 American Council for Drug Education 14 Leadership to Keep America Alcohol Free. 7

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