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Students Using Drugs at School

Drugs on Campus

“About 17 percent of American high school students are drinking, smoking or using drugs during the school day, according to a new study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.” – Huff Post

Unfortunately, drugs on campus are something you as the teacher will most likely encounter. Research shows that there is a definite link between teen substance abuse and how well you do in school. Teens who abuse drugs have lower grades, a higher rate of absence from school and other activities, and an increased potential for dropping out of school. 

cigarettes and vaping on campus

What to do when you suspect a student is using drugs

  • It’s important to confirm if an issue may exist. When you’re faced with a group of brand new students, you may not yet know what behavior is normal or abnormal for each student.
  • Once you become familiar with individual student signs of potential substance use may be much more obvious. This particularly applies if a student displays sudden or drastic changes in his or her behavior.
  • Document observations for future reference: what you observed, when it took place, the name of student or students involved, and so on.
  • Behaviors may require more evidence, such as the symptoms of particular drug or alcohol use. Look for changes in the student’s behavior like sudden absences or a decline in their academic performance. Keep in mind that stress and illness can also cause noticeable changes, so be reasonable in your conclusions (e.g. one bad grade does not equal drug use.)
  • The S. National Library of Medicine says signs can be when a student’s use of alcohol or other substance results in health problems or issues at work, home, or school.


Some Signs of Substance Abuse

  • School/activity related
    • Missing or skipping classes
    • Decrease in academic participation or performance
    • Disinterest in school or other activities
    • Neglecting personal appearance
  • Eye, Nose, Mouth
    • Bloodshot eyes or noticeable changes in pupil size (e.g., small like a pinpoint or overly large
    • Nosebleed or nasal irritation due to snorting
    • coughing or an increased thirst due to dry mouth/throat
    • Irritation of the mouth or throat from smoking
  • Weight Change
    • Including both loss and gain due to a byproduct of drug induced appetite change.
  • Uncharacteristic Poor Hygiene
    • Wearing dirty clothes
    • Strong body odor from not bathing
    • Noticeable poor oral hygiene or health
  • Skin
    • Unexplained bruising or marks on the skin
    • Wearing inappropriate clothing is warm weather to cover up injection marks
    • Flushed skin or heavy breathing may be a result of increased blood pressure and heart rate.
  • Other Behaviors
    • Student may exhibit body shaking, trembling, tic-like movements not previously noticed, or noticeable picking at their skin.

School Policy

  • If all signs and your intuition are pointing to substance use in one of your students, you may want to reach out to the student directly to help, but that can present a bigger challenge. Instead will want to check with your school’s specific policy regarding substance use in students and take action accordingly.
  • Informing the student’s parents of suspected substance use may be allowed as per school policy, but the task is often left up to the school’s administrative staff. The most you may be able to do for an individual student is pass the word along to other teachers that you’ve seen worrying signs that may indicate substance use.
  • Each school has a set procedure in place for addressing drug and alcohol abuse on or off campus to address use by students. Educators should refer to this guide as an additional resource. Such information may be available in resources like an employee or student handbook. Do not go against school policy, procedure, laws, or any other rules or regulations in place to avoid harming yourself or the student(s)

What You Can do for Students as a Whole

  • Even if school policy prevents you from reaching out directly to students you suspect may be having substance use issues, you can still take action to help students become more knowledgeable and aware.
  • Speak to your students as a group about substance abuse
  • Mention any school or nearby resources that are available for help
  • Provide an open, safe environment where students feel comfortable discussing any issues
  • Hold interactive conversations with students to outline myths and facts about substance use and abuse.
  • Encourage students to reach out to faculty members if they, or someone they know, needs help

Teachers Should Build Positive Relationships

Research has shown that a positive relationship with school, that school creates a greater sense of community, attachment, and performance, and is associated with reduced potential for drug abuse. That relationship starts with you as the teacher. Cultivate an environment for your students that will leave them feeling good about themselves as students but also as individuals outside of the classroom. “When educating the minds of our youth, we must not forget to educate their hearts.” –Dalia Lama



  1. D.A.R.E.


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