Drug addiction in the classroom: How should teachers go about it?

There is nothing as disconcerting to a teacher as watching a student with great potential waste away in drug addiction and substance abuse. In dealing with this, it is easier to just converge your efforts on the good student, with the hope to salvage what is left. However, I strongly believe educators can play a critical role in helping the youth stay drug-and-alcohol-free.

In 2015 when Maurice Kanyoni, Darius Gishoma and Vedaste Ndahindwa of BioMed Centre conducted a cross -sectional home survey on the Prevalence of psychoactive substance use among youth in Rwanda with 2479 Rwandan youth ranging in age from 14 to 35 years, randomly selected from 20 out of the 30 districts in the country, they discovered a 34 per cent prevalence rate of alcohol abuse, 8.5 per cent for tobacco smoking, 2.7 per cent for cannabis, 0.2 per cent for glue and 0.1 per cent for drugs such as diazepam. It may also come as a surprise to you that 67.37 per cent of the 2479 respondents were students—one of them may be attending your class. In a deference of four years, the figure 7.46 per cent in 2011 had risen to 34 per cent of the youth abusing alcohol. Going by this, 2019 may be the year of drug rapture.

With these facts, what can teachers do to help? The best place to start is to openly talk about it in class. Share stories of addicts showing that dependence is a medical problem and not a moral question. While doing this, show patience, concern and care for the students. One of the reasons the youth indulge in substance abuse is that they would rather get ecstatic on marijuana than face their troubles head on. If educators can show love and concern for such students, involving them in after school activities like games or book clubs—usually done with the teacher—may lessen their urge to use. For teens to denounce drugs, they may need to say yes to something as an alternative. Active discussion about healthy choices and positive after-school activities are definitely key.

Alternatively, having student communities/ families with peer counselling, may also help the teens deal with their addiction. Taking into account the influence peer pressure can have on an individual, one can only imagine the effect positive peer energy can have around an addict. This may, however, fail if the addict is so badly behaved that no one wants to associate with them. In this case, the teacher should explain to the students the circumstances surrounding addiction. The students should know that addiction is a medical condition masquerading as personal choice, and while it appears that the addict is making poor decisions, in reality, they are victims to the whims and wants of their drug of choice. Educators are quite influential and can help reduce the stigma.

Similarly, to build their trust, you must keep water-tight confidentiality. However, when the situation is way out of hand, you may involve the school administration, counsellors and the parents as an intervention plan, not for retribution. In all fairness, expulsion or suspension of an addict does not solve the problem; if anything, you have given him/her the chance to indulge more freely under almost no supervision as you do not expect the parents to strictly monitor the grey zone. Find out how as a school you can adopt a prevention strategy that touches all students.

Conclusively, we cannot continue to keep a blind eye on substance abuse in our schools. Given its medical rather than moral implications, educators can be at the forefront in the campaign against drug abuse while showing love and care for those who have fallen victims. Begin with that one student you know about and gently move to help the entire community.