How to talk to a student you suspect of alcohol/drug use

Around 74% of Australian secondary school students have tried alcohol at least once before they turn 17.[1] 2011 Australian Secondary Students’ Alcohol and Drug (ASSAD) Survey  Illicit drug use is less common with 2-3% reporting using drugs such as cocaine, ecstasy, amphetamines or heroin.[2] White, V & Bariola, E (December 2012). Australian secondary school students’ use of tobacco, alcohol, and over-the counter and illicit ...continue However research indicates that adolescents, like adults, tend to underreport illicit drug use.[3] Delaney-Black V, Chiodo LM, Hannigan JH, Greenwald MK, Janisse J, Patterson G, Huestis MA, Ager J, Sokol RJ. (2012). Just say “I ...continue Helping students who drink school

While the majority of alcohol and drug consumption tends to occur outside school hours, the consequences can often be seen at school.[4] McNeilage, A. (2014). Teachers deal with students’ drug and alcohol abuse, report says. Sydney Morning Herald   ...continue Students who drink alcohol or take drugs are more likely to be late, tired, disruptive, or fail to attend school.[ref] Survey of secondary school principals on the use of alcohol and other drugs in schools. A report prepared for the Australian National Council on Drugs, July 2013. John K See Consulting.http://wassea.schoolzinenewsletters.com/2014/20140311/attachments/ancd_rp26_survey_of_school_principals.pdf [/ref] The impact of the student’s actions while intoxicated on the weekend such as getting into fights, being bullied, or unsafe sexual activity, can also impact on their concentration and relationships at school.

If you are concerned about a student in your class, we have included some tips below on initiating conversations about their alcohol and/or drug use. If you do not feel comfortable talking to the student, refer them to the school counselor/psychologist. Remember your number one concern is the health and safety of the student (and the student population) rather than punishment.

  • Speak with the student privately.
  • Use ‘I statements’ that state what you’ve noticed or heard. ‘I am concerned about you; you’ve been missing a lot of school and coming late over the past month. You look very tired and pretty down. Is everything okay?’ Talk about the immediate concerns, focusing on things you have observed, and ask the student how they think their current situation is impacting on their day-to-day lives. Encourage the student to identify the problem/s.
  • Don’t use scare tactics or ‘always’ and ‘never’ statements to try and change the student’s attitudes or knowledge about health related behaviours. Do not accuse the student of using drugs.
  • Help the student to recognise the potential for self-help or self-initiated change by asking if they have any changes planned to improve their situation. Promote optimism by saying to the student, for example, ‘I know several adolescents your age who had a bad experience. They talked it through with someone they trusted, and found ways to cope without drugs or alcohol.’ Discuss an appropriate referral such as a GP, Psychologist, or helplines such as Cannabis information and helpline, Family Drug helpline. Also see the Australian Drug Foundation as it lists support services nationally, by state and by territory.
  • Encourage the student to talk with their parents or a senior staff member such as the welfare coordinator or the deputy or assistant principal. Let them know there are other teachers or specially trained professionals who can follow up on a student disclosure or issue of concern.

Remember: If drug use is disclosed ensure you comply with your school’s drug policy, and your duty of care obligations.

Click on the link for more Behaviour support and student management strategies for students who use alcohol and/or drugs (P4S members only). Non-members can view a free sample of these resources here.

Image credit: Drink by Kjersti Magnussen January 2009 Flickr 

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