Educating Teens About Drugs — The National Institute on Drug Abuse
- Grades: 6–8, 9–12
Drug and alcohol abuse continues to plague teenagers, and parents and teachers are often at a loss about how to handle this important issue. I grew up in the '70s, when there was a great deal of glorification of drug use in the media and very little information about the dark, dangerous side of drug use and addiction. With the advent of the information age, however, there are plenty of resources to help educate and inform students about the dangers of drug use.
My parents never really talked about drugs except to warn us sternly NOT TO DO THEM. I remember once when I was 13, my sister was 15, and my brother was 10, my mother found little blue capsules in the bathroom. She was hysterical, convinced that one of us was using drugs. She sat us all down and said she would call the police on us if we didn't confess. We looked at each other dumbfounded as to whom the drug addict was. Later, my mother found out that my father, who was a plumber, had left the capsules in the bathroom — they were used to discover leaks in toilets.
Books on Addiction
Much of what I learned about the true risk of drug use came from the contemporary novels of the time; the most compelling, of course, was Go Ask Alice. I will tell you that this book scared me straight. It was the diary of a teenage drug user whose descent from popular teenager yearning to fit in to drug addict spiraling out of control was portrayed in painful detail. Alice's diary entries trail off towards the end of the book, and her eventual death is reported on its last pages. I know today there is a great deal of argument about the authenticity of the book, but I still believe that it is a powerful and important book for teens. Jay's Journal often has the same impact on boys.
Today we are lucky that there are so many informative and intelligent resources about drug use available for parents, teachers, and students. Scholastic's Heads Up site, a collaboration between Scholastic and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, has excellent information for students and young adults, including facts about drugs, videos, real stories, activities, and downloads. Most importantly, the site specifically looks at the science of drug use, including the effects of drug abuse on the brain and body. The Web site can clear up the myths and misinformation that often surround drugs and addiction. There are plenty of links for students who need more information or help. The Teen Science Investigation (TSI) portion of the site includes award-winning research projects such as: Do human corpses found intact in the desert hold clues about the dangers of methamphetamine abuse? Can the residue from burning tobacco cause genetic mutations in flies? NIDA's mission to bring the power of science to bear on drug abuse and addiction creates a powerful resource for information and dialogue.
On the site, teachers can find plenty of lesson plans and worksheets aligned with National Standards to use in the classroom, which can help educate students about drugs and their effects. Parents will also find resources to help them answer questions and talk frankly with their children about everything from prescription drug abuse to methamphetamines.
In the "Real Stories" section of the NIDA for Teens site, real teens tell their stories about drug abuse and addiction. For instance, "Beyond the Bulk: Craig's Story" is an insightful, informative, and brutally honest look at steroid use. "E is for Empty: Daniel's Story" tells the true story of a teen whose abuse of the drug commonly called Ecstasy began because he thought no one liked him. The truth was that drugs alienated him from everyone.
Finally, it is important for teens to know that there is help for them out there if a friend or family member suffers from addiction. Al-Anon/Alateen charges no dues, and teens can attend meetings to get comfort, advice, and support in dealing with the difficult issues surrounding drug and alcohol abuse. Resources are available in English, Spanish, and French.
With all the information readily available for teens, parents, and teachers, we can all be well equipped to fight drug abuse and deal with issues of addiction. Armed with these tools, students will be better able to make healthy decisions.