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Substance Abuse Education for Teachers

Teachers often act as the front line to prevent and help treat substance abuse among high school and college age students. It is important that our teachers are well educated in the treatment options and substance abuse prevention programs that the local, state, and federal government offers. The Foundation for a Drug Free World among other agencies offer a variety of programs available for teachers to learn how to prevent and recognize substance abuse as well as encourage students to seek treatment for their substance abuse problem.


One of the main focuses for teachers is the prevention of substance abuse among teens and college age students. This prevention comes in many forms such as:

  • teacher education courses,

  • student education packages,

  • brief intervention training, and

  • classroom presentations.

One of the main prevention techniques is through the “Truth About Drugs: Real People Real Stories” program. This program allows students to see real presentations about drugs and alcohol from people their age. The program is free and gives students a chance to see the devastation that drugs cause.

This program has videos, activities, assignments, and other aids to help teachers send a clear message about drugs to their students. It also contains educational materials on how to talk to students about drug use in a practical nonjudgmental way. This is not the only program. Many teachers attend conferences that go over all aspects of drug abuse among their students.


One of the hardest things for teachers to learn is how to recognize the subtle signs of drug use among their students. This includes recognizing:

  • unexplained changes in personality,

  • abrupt changes in activities and hobbies,

  • changes in motivation and grades,

  • moodiness,

  • irritability, and

  • changes in attitude,

  • changes in hygiene,

  • depression,

  • anxiety, and

  • the physical signs of drug use for many of the major drugs.

EPIC and other programs show teachers how to recognize these signs by showing them videos and photos of students who have drug issues. Teacher education does not end in the classroom. There are online programs and classes they can take to find out more about how to recognize drug use and who to report it to.

Encouraging Students to Seek Treatment

Encouraging students to seek treatment is a very tricky thing for educators. If a teacher recognizes the signs of drug use, it is important that they know how to react. The worst thing that can happen is an overreaction. Since many of the signs of drug use are similar to other teenage and early adult problems, it is important for teachers to positively identify drug use before taking action.

It is also important for teachers to keep a positive open dialog about drugs with their students. This is done in hopes that the students will come to the teacher with their drug problem before action is necessary.

How can Teachers Help Students who Abuse Substances?

As a teacher it can be difficult to watch students fall victims to drug and alcohol abuse. Unfortunately, it happens far more frequently than most would like. There are programs for teachers such as The Foundation for a Drug Free World, but these programs are not always enough to help those most in need of guidance and education about drugs. There are ways that teachers can help students with substance abuse programs overcome their addiction.

Teaching Students about the Dangers of Drugs

Most help from teachers starts with educating students about the dangers of drugs. Although a student might already be a user, sometimes showing them the danger that they are putting themselves in is enough to cause them to seek help. Many students do not know or believe how dangerous drugs can be. By teaching them the dangers, a teacher might be able to encourage them to quit. Each drug has different dangers and if they are approached individually, a teacher might have a better chance at getting to a student who is abusing substances.

Speak to them at their Level

Most teachers know that in order for students to learn, you have to speak to them at their level. This is the same for a student that is abusing a substance. By speaking to them on a level that they understand, it might be possible to get through to them without resorting to using authority. It is always best for the student to come to the conclusion that their addiction is harmful on their own. This is not to say that intervention is unnecessary, just that it is easier when the student recognizes the behavior has harmful.

Keep the Lines of Communication Open

By keeping the lines of communication open between teacher and student, a student is more likely to disclose substance abuse or issues with other students. This is particularly helpful with older students. If the relationship between teacher and student is not adversarial the student is more likely to open up to the teacher about their substance abuse.

Many people who abuse substances realize that there is a problem on their own. They might even want treatment but have no idea how to obtain it without reprisal. With open dialogue between student and teacher, a teacher has the chance to guide the student into treatment or frank discussions about resources.

Let them Know their Options

By showing a student that has an addiction their options, a teacher can help guide them to treatment. It is always better for the student to recognize the need for treatment. Knowing what types of treatment is out there is also extremely beneficial. By taking the mystery away from substance abuse treatment, it might make a student more likely to be confident in their choice to seek it out.

ACCSA is an on-site provider of substance abuse education for parents & teachers. Mail us at for more information.

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