Reducing Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse Risks for All Students Brenden R. Babcock, M.Ed Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor/Substance Abuse Prevention Specialist Objectives:

  1. Increase teacher interest in underage substance abuse and its impact on learning environments
  2. Increase awareness of resources available to teachers for further study and application
  3. Consider that all students are at risk for substance abuse

Background and Brief Introduction Debate has re-emerged as to the causes of underage substance abuse.  Historically, the field was poorly grounded in research because of our societal denial of the sheer numbers of kids misusing and abusing chemicals.  In the past, adolescents suffering from the negative effects of chemical use were treated under the adult continuum of prevention, intervention and treatment, or were treated from a strictly behavioral standpoint.  Fortunately this trend has reversed over the past 15 years. Research has emerged that indicates that adolescent substance abuse is worthy of its own scientific understanding.  All adults should be concerned for the long-term impact of this generation’s choices on our aging population.  Schools in particular have become concerned about substance abuse, its negative impact on motivation for learning, attendance, and a wide variety of citizenship behaviors that our democratic model believes is important for success. While the emerging studies of underage chemical use pathology yield very different results from adult models, two similarities exist. 

1.  Once substance abuse is discovered, concerned adults must search for its causes.  Understanding the function of the behavior will provide the foundation for an intervention plan. 

 2.  The interventions must be based on a combination of factors related to the nature of the use (biological risk factors), and nurture for the use (biographical risk factors).   Biology Emerging research is illuminating the link between underage substance abuse and co-morbid mental health issues.  Results suggest that significant teen substance abuse occurs in order to seek relief from the intrapersonal pain.  This unresolved emotional discomfort could be caused by an untreated mental health issue.  This theory holds that teens are seeking to self medicate through illicit chemical means so that they can achieve some sense of well being.  For a well rounded introduction to this field of study, please refer to the National Institute of Drug Abuse web site or the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administrationsite at: . Biography As important to biological risks, are the risks that appear in patterns of interactions between adults and teens.  Of particular interest are relationship dynamics that evidence an inappropriate distance, or “resonance” between youth and adult (Szapocnik, Hervis, 2002).  Symptoms include unhealthy levels of unresolved conflict, or a lack of healthy cohesion (love).   Studies are emerging that demonstrate the risks associated with dysfunctional patterns of family interactions and a teen’s trajectory towards substance abuse.    

This program is recognized as an evidence-based model of substance abuse intervention.  It was developed by the University of Miami, FL, Center for Family Studies and has received support from the MN Department of Human Services/Chemical Health Division, the National Institute of Drug Abuse and the Eckerd Family Foundation. Relevance for Teachers It is important to understand what we as teachers can impact in terms of risk reduction in the school environment.  The Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies identifies 18 risk factors which contribute to teen substance abuse.  It is important to note the important shift in our understanding of the impact of these risks for students in public and private school settings.  In the past, we believed wrongly that only some students were at risk.  We now suspect that all students are at some risk for substance abuse and related unhealthy behaviors. Some risks can be addressed in the classroom, and some can not.  Teachers should become open minded regarding their increasing role as adult guides in shaping young adults behaviors.  Families are more fragmented and less able to provide the united front of adult leadership which all teens require.   As a classroom teacher, we will find ourselves wondering about a particular student’s change in behavior and attitude.  We may begin to suspect that chemical abuse is a possible cause for the downturn.  If we become aware of the following risks, we can then look for ways to reduce their negative impact.      One Important Caution Teachers and other concerned adults often become overly involved with young people on an emotional level.  This affects our objectivity and can contribute to more, not less risk.  Dick Schaefer of Fargo, ND, has been successfully reducing enabling dynamics between teens and adults since 1966.  Dick and Vern Johnson were instrumental in founding the Johnson Institute, a 1970’s leader in the recognition that drug problems can be prevented if we want to learn how.  Please take time to reflect on the following.   Consider a situation past or present when you were confronted with the school failure of a young person you really care about.  Do you even now find yourself becoming angry, filled with feelings of guilt or shame?  Do you sometimes feel that you cannot share these feelings with colleagues or supervisors because you have knowledge about the behavior that you kept hidden?  Do you feel that you are the only one with the right answers?  You may consider reading Choices and Consequences, What to Do When a Teenager Uses Alcohol/Drugs (Schaefer, 1998).  This text will help you work with a team of adults to develop a system of intervention designed to defeat a system of enabling and continued use.     PREVENTION TALK: Risk Factors – What Parents Need to Know   Excerpts taken from an article written by Diane Hipp for the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, 2004

In America’s homes, communities, and schools, positive adult role models are working to reduce risk factors in the lives of young people in order to decrease the chances they will develop behavior problems.  Risk factors are conditions that increase the likelihood that a young person will develop one or more behavior problems in adolescence. . . .

being done in communities and schools across the country is based on this simple premise:  to prevent a problem, we must find out what factors increase the chance of that problem occurring, then find ways to reduce the presence of these risk factors.  Parents need to know what these risk factors are so that they can begin to address them at home.   TO THINK ABOUT:

  Learn about the risk factors for adolescent behavior problems.
Take steps to reduce those risk factors at home.  Below are two examples:

Availability of drugs . . . the more available alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs are, the greater the risk the teen will use them.  Parents can control the availability in the home to help reduce this risk factor.

Family management problems . . . a lack of or unclear expectations for behavior, failure to monitor behavior, and a lack of appropriate and consistent consequences.  Parents can set guidelines, monitor these guidelines, and apply consequences for behavior.


The following list shows the risk factors identified by Dr.’s Hawkins and Catalano for drug abuse . . .


  1. Availability of drugs
  2. Community laws and norms favorable toward drug use, firearms and crime
  3. Transitions and mobility
  4. Low neighborhood attachment and community disorganization
  5. Extreme economic deprivation


  1. Family history of the problem behavior
  2. Family management problems
  3. Family conflict
  4. Favorable parental attitudes and involvement in the problem behavior


  1. Academic failure beginning in late elementary school
  2. Lack of commitment to school

  Peer & Individual

  1. Early and persistent antisocial behavior
  2. Rebelliousness
  3. Friends who engage in the problem behavior
  4. Gang involvement
  5. Favorable attitudes toward the problem behavior
  6. Early initiation of the problem behavior
  7. Constitutional factors


*2004 Channing Bete Company, Inc.