What is typical alcohol and substance use?
None. There is no typical or acceptable alcohol or substance use during childhood or teenage years.
Even though alcohol and other substances are illegal for minors and we would expect that they would abstain from use, children and teenagers are curious and they get exposed to these things, offered them, and pressured to use them. Also, those with certain difficulties, including, anxiety, depressed mood, behavior problems, inattentiveness are more prone to give alcohol and substances a try.
Most substances are harmful, especially when used in large amounts. And young people don't react to substances in the same ways adults do. For instance, younger people seem to experience more of the pleasant effects of alcohol, which can easily lead to excessive use and loss of control. Also, their brain is extremely sensitive to alcohol's neurotoxicity that can compromise their health, security, and further development in the long run.
Because using alcohol or substances usually serve their intended purposes (eg, alleviating anxiety, amplifying positive brief experience), at least at first, chances of using them again may increase over time, leading to negative impacts on physical development, everyday life, school performance , and social relationships, as well as increasing tendencies for risky behaviors.
When should I be concerned about a student's alcohol or substance use?
Alcohol or substance use during childhood or adolescence should always be a cause of concern. The longer a substance has been used, the more habit forming and dangerous it becomes.
But how do you know if a student is using alcohol or other substances? Aside from direct evidence (eg, bottles, bags, or other paraphernalia), teachers often see physical, emotional, and behavioral changes. Of course, the specifics of these changes depend directly upon the substance being used. For example, smoked tobacco can cause coughing and respiratory problems, while vaped stimulants can cause insomnia, irritability, and unexplained weight loss.
Here are some important signs that may indicate that a child or teen may be developing serious or problematic use:
- Changes in behavior, everyday rituals, and friendships.
- Mood swings, irritability, or argumentativeness.
- Unusual agitation, restlessness, or hyperactivity.
- Lethargy, being slowed down, sleeping more or lack of motivation.
- Declining grades, skipping school, and poor school or work performance.
- Loss of interest in hobbies or extracurricular activities, such as athletic, artistic, and social endeavors.
- Comments from other school staff, classmates or friends, and caregivers.
- Delinquent/substance-using friends.
- Exhaling the smell of alcohol or tobacco.
- Signs of alcohol use (eg, difficulties in awakening or falling asleep during class, etc.).
- Dangerous behavior such as getting into fights, driving while impaired, or dangerous sexual activity.
- Isolating from friends or missing school events.
- Borrowing or taking money or valuables.
- Missing prescription drugs or missing alcohol.
What can I do to help a student with alcohol or substance use?
If you notice that one of your students is having problems with alcohol and/or substances, there are a few things you may attempt:
- Talk about it. Let the student know what has been noticed and that they are cared for. Teachers may let students know that they are there for them to talk about concerns and thoughts letting them know that they are not in trouble.
- Be a good source of information. The potential consequences of drinking and using substances are real. Any substance use impairs judgment and teens are more likely to find themselves in dangerous situations. It can often affect school performance, relationships and chances in the future. Explaining the reasons and having a conversation about them can increase the chances of an open, adult conversation about the matter. Being open and honest about the dangers of alcohol and substance use can also help students make better informed decisions.
- Bring the concerns to a caregiver's attention. Teachers should not attempt to address a student's alcohol and/or substance use on their own. A student's caregivers need to know of anything concerning occurring in school. Caregivers may also be able to identify if concerns are present outside of school.
- Seek help from a school mental health professional. In general, alcohol use in adolescence is challenging, particularly if they are occurring regularly. Support from a school mental health professional is warranted in most situations when alcohol use results in concerns.
- Seek support. With a caregiver's permission, teachers may consult other professionals who specialize in helping children with behavioral difficulties.
Pediatricians or family physicians can help to address initial concerns and refer to specialized professionals. Also, whenever possible, a consultation with a mental health professional may be helpful.
The public system provides services through the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and Centers of Multidisciplinary Assessment, Counseling, and Support (KEDASY).
Alcohol or substance use that is too frequent, intense, present in many different contexts, and that negatively interferes with classroom daily activities, may indicate the possibility of Substance Use Disorders.
Where to find more information
Specific, detailed, and clinical information on Substance Use Disorders can be found at [clinical short guide at the program website].
If you want to know more about the closest available services for educational and public health systems for children and adolescent assistance across the country, go to our Services Mapping webpage here.
You can also find more information by pointing your phone camera at the QR code below or by clicking here.