How Teachers Can Identify a Student’s Substance Abuse

It is a challenge to be a teacher in today’s education system. They must deal with their regular responsibilities as well as changes in classroom technology, funding, bullying, staff politics, parental involvement, class size, and more. During the last few decades teachers have had to also deal with student addiction and drug abuse issues.


The information provided for teachers often involves the most current types of drug use methods. They are also regularly provided with information about the demographics of who abuses drugs. It is stressed the individual using drugs isn’t always who a teacher may suspect.

Student Safety

Properly dealing with drug abuse by students is considered to be associated with student safety and more. When a student is in school, the staff, teachers, and administrators are responsible for their safety. There are federal and state laws in place to have drug-free schools. All types of addictive or illicit substances are banned. The only exception is prescription medications used to treat a medical condition. These must still meet specific requirements published by the school as well as state and local governments. Teachers, staff, and students are responsible to report any violations to school administrators.

Behavioral Changes

These changes could be a sign of using some type of illicit substance. The most significant signs will be behavioral. Individuals who are using drugs will attempt to hide it because of denial or shame. There are many different signs.

  • Schoolwork Issues – This could involve missing or late assignments and poor performance. It could also involve frequent tardiness to school or classes as well as frequent absences.
  • Overly Protective of Things and Space – A student becomes overly upset or angry if anyone tries to look in their locker or backpack.
  • Lack of Interest in Extracurricular Activities – This includes activities they had been passionate about previously. It could also involve being late or not showing up for practices, meetings, being antagonistic toward teammates, peers, and more.
  • Interpersonal Relationship Changes – This could involve the people a student associates with and sudden changes in types of friend groups or isolating themselves from others.
  • Mood Swings – This could happen suddenly or when it is inappropriate for the situation. This could involve being angry in a happy situation as well as becoming suddenly angry for no apparent reason.

Physical Changes

It is possible for there to be noticeable changes in a student’s physical appearance that are signs of drug abuse.

  • Heavy Breathing Or Flushed Skin – This could be caused by an increase in their blood pressure and heart rate. It could be combined with tic-like movements, trembling, and shaking. Picking at the skin on their arms or face is possible. These will be things that were not previously noticed.
  • Substance Withdrawal – This could involve sleeplessness, headache, excessive fatigue, runny nose, vomiting, profuse sweating as well as nausea.
  • Weight Changes – This could include both gain and loss resulting from a drug-induced change in appetite.
  • Poor Hygiene – This could involve strong body odor because of not bathing, wearing dirty clothes, unkempt appearance as well as poor oral hygiene.
  • Nosebleeds or Nasal Irritation – This could involve coughing, increased thirst because of having a dry throat or mouth. Unexplained marks or bruising on the skin as well as wearing inappropriate clothing such as long sleeves in warm weather. This is often done to hide injection marks.
  • Bloodshot Eyes – This involves a noticeable change in the size of a student’s pupils.

Actions To Take

Before a teacher takes any action, it is important they first determine why they believe a student is abusing alcohol or drugs. They should document their observations. Write down what they have observed, what happened as well as when it happened. Should a student be discovered to possess illicit substances, this is sufficient to notify the school’s administration as well as the student’s parents. It’s important to know that illness and stress can also result in noticeable changes in a student.

Each school will have procedures in place to handle a situation involving a student abusing drugs or alcohol if they are on or off campus. It is important for a teacher to follow a school’s policy, procedures as well as any laws and other rules. This will prevent harm to a teacher as well as the student.

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