Educating Teens About Drugs — The National Institute on Drug Abuse

By Nancy Barile on February 7, 2011
  • 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

Go Ask Alice 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.

Online Resources

DSC01334 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. 

Al-Anon/Alateen

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.

~ Nancy

Comments

Bob is my friend and i agree with him comepletly. I did drugs before so i would love to find out how to talk to these kids. Somtimes i still do drugs but it is good to talk about it.

Thank you, JT, that's one reason I like the NIDA site so much - it CLEARS up the myths and misinformation about drugs. And McClendon, you are so right - we must help kids realize that their actions can have dire consequences, that one mistake can change their whole lives. Finally, Michelle, I agree - we have to continue to truthfully and honestly communicate with our kids so that they get the TRUE message about drugs and addiction.

I think the thing I remember most about the whole "drug" thing was how while I was in K-12, everyone told me not to do drugs or I'd turn into a loser. Then when I got to college and saw so many students doing drugs, I was floored. I mean, in my vocabulary, no "loser" would ever be found matriculating in college, right? I think it's really important that we tell kids the whole truth about drugs and not just approach it with a "drugs are bad" philosophy because (sadly) some kids have parents who are doing drugs. We have to approach it with facts, honesty, and a real understanding that people make bad choices. Sometimes it takes years, decades, before smoking pot catches up to a person. I look back - 20 years later - and see the effects on those who didn't stop or who went on to harder drugs, and it's a sad view. But again, it's not a good-people, bad-people conversation with kids, especially when they think 20 years is actually a hundred years away.

My brother had a friend who "barely" survived those years of his life. He will never be the same. Kids need to understand that their decisions have consequences. Some consequences are so horrible that they will never recover from that one night of making a poor decision. You are doing a great job getting this information out to teachers. Thanks, Nancy!

And thank you, Kathy, for doing this most-needed work!

I have worked in shelters for teenagers who had substance abuse problems and I find that it's critical for young teens to be educated on this important issue. At times I've encountered that their knowledge of what drugs do to their bodies and minds is limited or false. Thanks for recommending books that deal with drug abuse in order for teachers to implement it in their classrooms!

As someone who has dedicated my whole adult life to people suffering with the disease of addiction, I appreciate this blog and how it highlights the use and abuse of alcohol and other drugs amongst teens. There is hope and much help out there for people suffering with this life-threatening disease. Thank you for posting.

Charles, I agree with you 100%. Survivor stories are VERY powerful for kids, and that's one think I like about the "real stories" section of the site. I also like how you said the parent said to you "they're good kids" and "that's what my parents thought." That is a mistake WAY too many parents make! Thanks for your input!

Nancy, I do believe we all have friends that survived the drug years of our youth (and many that didn't). I think that having a survivor speaking to young folks, speaking to and not at, is a valuable tool. When you can talk about what was lost in exchange for a few hours of being high it really doesn't balance out. Much more was lost than gained. I for one have talked with my friends who have teens and don't have a clue. When I offered to talk with a friend's kids and she replied that my kids are good, to which I replied that's what my parents thought. The look on her face changed so intensely that I was invited to her house that evening. The few times I have spoken with teens about drug use I have asked that their parents no be present so the kids could express themselves freely. What I do know is that in retrospect I would have chosen a different route. I also think that if a teacher is going to bring someone in to talk about drug abuse from experience that teacher and speaker need to spend time together mapping out what is to be said and how it is going to be said, so the past isn't accidently glorified. Hope this makes some sense.

nancy, I think your absolutly right. Because having the ability of speaking with a survivor is amazing. I think you are inspirational.

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