The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines substance abuse as harmful or hazardous use of psychoactive substances, including alcohol and illicit drugs. Psychoactive substance use can lead to dependence syndrome - a cluster of behavioural, cognitive, and physiological phenomena that develop after repeated substance use and that typically includes a strong desire to take the drug, difficulties in controlling its use, persisting in its use despite harmful consequences, a higher priority given to drug use than to other activities and obligations, increased tolerance, and sometimes a physical withdrawal state.
There are different signs of drug abuse. In general, people who use drugs or alcohol typically display health issues; like, a neglected appearance, changes in behaviour and irregular sleeping patterns. They also make repeated requests for money.
Psychological signs of substance abuse
It is important to be mindful of changes in young person’s behaviour due to factors other than drug use. Therefore, it is important for the teachers to remember the following:
Drug misuse may have an impact on learning and participation in school. Teachers are usually the primary adults who participate in the life of children outside the family. They can readily identify atypical behaviour, and recognise when students are not learning and may be experiencing difficulties with other aspects of their lives.
Issues of trust and confidentiality can arise when teachers discuss possible drug issues with young people. Teachers cannot guarantee confidentiality if matters are discussed that would oblige them to report their concerns about the welfare and safety of the young person to the principal. Teachers should discuss with the principal behaviours that need to be reported and the procedures for doing so. At the outset of any discussion, teachers should also advise students that there are limits to the help they can give and that they may need to refer the student for more specialised assistance. The student should be informed before further advice is sought.
Often the discussions on drug use are dominated by the adult, who lectures and questions a resentful and uncommunicative adolescent. The following guidelines are offered as a way of obtaining a clearer understanding of the situation and encouraging effective two way communication. Before approaching students, the teachers should:
Children may be reluctant to accept help or may feel that other problem areas in their life are more pressing than any specifically related to drug use. They must first recognise that they have a problem and then decide that they want to do something about it. School counsellors, social workers and teachers can help young people make such a decision by working with them in a non-judgmental and empathic manner.
Teachers and parents should communicate with each other. It is important to keep each another up to date about the child so that an overall and full picture is developed. Be aware of non-verbal communication. Teachers and parents should look for nonverbal cues such as avoiding eye contact, which may indicate guilt, or squirming/fidgeting, which may indicate fear. Teachers and parents should also be cognizant of their own non-verbal cues such as frowning to indicate disappointment or disapproval.