Drug and Substance Abuse Among School-aged Youth

Signs of Substance Abuse and Addiction in School-Aged Populations

            Substance abuse and addiction among school-going youth are manifested by various warning signs. The most apparent ones include changes in behavior and mannerism, impaired judgement, lack of motivation, changes in personality, irrational behaviors, depression, and changes in appearance. In most cases, the incidence of several signs can help one to pinpoint an addict in a class or a school.

            A common early warning sign of substance abuse and addiction is a change in behavior and mannerism. The first observable pattern is normally the change of friends whom the guardians or parents are either unfamiliar with or likely to disapprove. In order to protect their new addictions, the abusers are prone to make up unsatisfactory excuses for their new acquired behaviors. They may also become angry when confronted or opt for solitude by skipping family dinners, staying alone in their rooms, and avoiding other family bonding routines. At school, they may exhibit increased involvement in violent acts, violation of curfew restrictions, and caustic reactions.

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            Abusers of specific drugs such as marijuana and alcohol will display signs of impaired judgement and disinhibition. Their speech will often slur, and their verbal expressions can reveal patterns of weakened perceptiveness. New addicts may also detach themselves from people when it comes to communication in order to limit their verbal involvement or engage in unusual conversations and increases talkativeness. In cases where the student is masking this sign, the teacher can use other strategies like questioning the subject’s deteriorating grades or their decreased involvement in academic activities.

            Another sign of substance abuse among school-aged populations is the lack of motivation. Students who have just started abusing substances suddenly begin to lose morale, productivity, and self-control. They can also start to reveal apathy, difficult temperament, poor social interactions, and the lack of self-control. As a result, they may decide to steal in order to finance their involvement in substance abuse and even neglect their personal hygiene or adopt uncommon dressing habits.

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            Other common signs of substance abuse and addiction include changes in personality, depression, and changes in appearance. New drug users are bound to become disinterested in the things that they were previously passionate about. Extroverts can become introverted and choose to isolate themselves from others. While in class, the teacher may notice changes in appearance like the presence of widely dilated pupils, bloodshot eyes, or pin-point pupils. These symptoms can be accompanied by drowsiness and fatigue, which may further indicate a sign of crashing after an episode of euphoria or hyper-activity. Changes in personality and depression can be easily detected through a change of behavior and mannerism.

Etiology of Addictions and Addictive Behaviors

            There are many models and theories that attempt to explain the reasons behind observed patterns of addictions and addictive behaviors. Several wide-ranging classifications can be used to summarize these models. The most explanatory ones include (1) personality/intrapsychic models, (2) coping/social learning models, (3) genetic/physiological models, (4) compulsive/ excessive behavior models, (5) Social/ environment models, (6) conditioning/reinforcement models, and (7) the integrative biopsychosocial model.

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Personality/Intrapsychic Models.

Addictive behaviors can be conceptualized as an indication of past intrapsychic conflicts that are considered disorders of personality. Proponents of this models argue that the frequent connection between the abuse of drugs and the manifestation of antisocial personality disorder or juvenile delinquency presents evidence of drug abuse as a symptom of psychological problems. Although many studies in the past have produced mixed and unconvincing results, deep-seated intrapersonal factors have been found accountable for a small part of the rationalization of addiction.

Coping/Social Learning Models

Often, addictions and addictive behaviors are linked to inadequate or poor coping mechanisms. When they are unable to cope with the tresses of life, drug addicts usually turn to addiction for comfort or as a way of escape. From this view, drug addicts opt for the use of substances to alleviate their overwhelming life conditions and manage their situations. Individuals who have a tendency to engender the feelings of anxiety, anger, frustration and depression are most likely to fall victims to this model. Some of the most noteworthy domains of coping responses include emotion-focused, appraisal-focused, and problem-focused domains where each is guided by the motivation behind the addiction.

Genetic/Physiological Models

The purpose of genetics in the etiology of addiction and addictive behaviors has been substantiated by many studies in the past. In particular, studies carried out in the area of alcohol abuse and dependence have proved to be the most convincing (Crabbe & Phillips, 2016, p. 273). Results of numerous family studies have shown that the risk ratios for individuals have increased correspondingly with the rise of the number of alcoholic relatives and the severity of alcohol problems in the family. Similarly, twin studies and in-depth assessments of children raised by alcoholic parents have supported this model. Thus, the role of various genes in addictions has been pointed out by many researchers and used as a factor for identifying newborns who have a higher vulnerability to addiction.

Compulsive/ Excessive Behavior Models

The repetitive nature of many addictions, as well as the difficulty in successfully modifying or stopping addictive behaviors, has led many scientists to conclude that addiction is related to ritualistic compulsive behaviors (Granero et al., 2017, pp. 57-65). A common substantiation of this model is that individuals engage in a certain behavior because it helps theme to satisfy a particular psychological need or conflict. In such a case, the behavior is usually out of the control of the subject. Proponents of this model may also compare addictive behaviors and compulsive behaviors by applying biologically based perspectives which claim that compulsive behaviors can represent a biological chemical imbalance that is reflected in brain neurotransmitters.

Social/ Environment Models

This model lays emphasis on the role of various societal influences, social policies, peer pressure, family systems, and availability as responsible mechanisms for the occurrence of addiction and addictive behaviors. In this perspective, observed patterns of increased incidences of certain drugs in specific cultures or subgroups are used as a validation (Griffiths, 2005, p. 191-197). Additionally, social support and influence have been pointed out by scientific researchers in social contexts. For example, the use of cocaine has spawned “crack houses” where addicts gather to either access or abuse the drug.

Conditioning/Reinforcement Models

A substantial body of research shows that each substance of abuse possesses a range of reinforcing properties (Foxall, 2016). Animal studies have particularly pointed toward the role of connectional reinforces in the ingestion of psychoactive drugs, and the incidence of addictions and addictive behaviors in general. Based on the studies, reinforcement theory seems to be a suitable explanation for the subtle physiological effects that are produced by various substances over and above the gross motor drug-seeking components of repeated behaviors. In order to illustrate the legitimacy of this model, the slot machine has been used as a classic example of the power of reinforcement in patterns of behavior.

The Integrative Biopsychosocial Model

The discontent that has arisen from the partial explanations of the other models has prompted the integration of biological, psychological, and sociological accounts to come up with the biopsychosocial model. Proponents of this etiological explanation claim that addiction is best recognized as a convergence of factors that represent the three aforementioned areas of influence (Le Grange, 2016, pp. 12-13). Thus, addictive behaviors are seen as interactive products of the social learning theory in a situation where psychological events are interpreted, labelled, and given meaning by the addict.

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How to Design Strategies for the Prevention, Intervention, and Treatment of Addictions Commonly Found In School-Aged Youth

            Strategies for the prevention, intervention, and treatment of addictions among school-aged youth should be developed according to the needs of individual addicts and should focus on enhancing self-control, peer relationships, social behaviors, self-control, and drug offer refusal skills. In particular, school-based programs should be integrated with the school’s goal of augmenting academic performance.

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            Schemes for the prevention and screening of drug abuse are usually universal in nature and seek to target general populations, regardless of whether individuals have participated in abuse or not. These can be integrated into other school programs including life skills and caring school community programs. When the target population is small, and the counselor wishes to use an individualized approach, selective or targeted prevention can be adopted. This approach is most suitable for addressing subsets of the population that show a high risk for substance abuse based on factors like academic or behavioral problems, family history, and delinquency, among others.

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When developing individualized programs, the formulators should ensure that they match the needs of the subjects, their cultural norms, or the differing cultural requirements. The programs should further integrate teacher training and interactive techniques and adopt good classroom management practices such as rewarding positive behavior. Lastly, they should also be long-term with booster programs to reinforce the original prevention goals.

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Addiction Case Study of A Sixteen-year-old Latino male “John” Who lives in a Middle Class-suburb

            A sixteen-year-old Latino male “John,” lives in a middle class-suburb. He was referred to me by a church leader because he thought that my experience as a teacher and counselor would be helpful in aiding the teenager. John is also a high school student in a school located within the confines of his home area. After the referral, I organized an appointment to meet him at his home, where his mother was present in the adjacent room.

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            During the session, several issues arose. John had been involved in several confrontations with her parents because of his involvement in crimes related to drug possession and vehicle infractions. He had also been suspended from school for two weeks because of his involvement in drug abuse. According to his statement, John abuses alcohol and marijuana and has been doing so since the age of 13. He also admitted to having started abusing ecstasy (Methylenedioxymethamphetamine) recently.

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            When I asked him why he was using the drugs, John said that it helped to alleviate his boredom and stress and to provide him with a way of escape and diversion. He started to abuse alcohol as soon as his father was employed in a brewery. In addition to working for long hours, John’s father frequently brought a few bottles of whisky and beer at home. He had even purchased an extra refrigerator in order to accommodate the extra ones. John said that his dad was also a heavy user of the alcohol he brought. In fact, he was very articulate when describing the behavior of his drunk dad. The most important thing that I noted in our conversation was that John had always perceived his father as a mentor. Hence, when he came home drunk and “happy,” John adopted his behavior and even shared some bottles with his friends. It was not long before he got addicted to the substance. When he could not find any bottles in the fridge, John said that he would sneak into his parent’s bedroom and steal the pennies he could find, although this would lead him into a confrontation with his parents, especially his dad.

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            The frequent arguments and differences soon materialized into intense quarrels. John grew detached from his family and began to spend more time with his friends. He told me that some of his friends had dropped out of school because of the booming marijuana peddling “business.” He had even offered to distribute to his friends to earn commissions for his alcohol. However, as soon as he became a supplier, he started using the drug and got addicted to it as well. He was now at the age of 15 but had already begun driving cars which he had borrowed from his friends in order to make deliveries. At one point, he had been arrested for driving an unregistered vehicle without a license.

            John noted that he views authority figures like the police as corrupt and unethical individuals. However, he did admit that they have obligations to fulfill to the community, especially when it comes to protecting members of the society from detrimental practices. He also acknowledged the consequences of his actions and that he was headed for prison if he would not change his behavior. I reminded him that his mother would be arrested in case the police found out that he had drugs in the house; this bothered Jimmy.

            Throughout the intervention, I listened to him attentively and affirmed him. Consequently, he earned my trust and even revealed his recent attempts to abuse Ecstasy. I recommended that John be careful when it comes to choosing friends and adopting behaviors from peers. Finally, I shared my phone number, and we planned to meet for another session.

Narrative Self-Reflection

The primary goal in addiction counselling for the case of John would be to help him achieve and maintain abstinence from alcohol and marijuana by applying an individualized intervention program. Since I have already identified his needs, the program will integrate strategies of meeting his needs and basic procedures of remedying the addictions. This will be made possible by helping him to re-establish a relationship with his family, discover his passions, make new friends, and boost his self-esteem. In addition, it would be necessary to assimilate a prevention program owing to his attempts of abusing other drugs (ecstasy.)

            As the counselor, I am presented with several strengths. First, John is very cooperative and approachable. He has expressed his readiness in detaching from his current peers in order to avoid further encounters with the law. He has also agreed to turn away from his old ways by any means necessary because his actions are hurting his family emotionally and financially. Most importantly, he acknowledges that his engagement in drug addiction has negatively affected his education, life, and stature. Secondly, John’s parents have admitted to collaborate in the program in order to save their son from going to prison and dropping out of school. This will greatly aid in making follow-ups and ensuring that John does not slowly revert to his old behaviors. In addition, his dad’s interest in the matter could act as a huge incentive in the alleviation of John’s alcohol abuse. The other strength is that I have already earned John’s trust. We even regularly talk through telephone, where he shares his recent experiences.

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            Notably, John’s abuse and addiction are the product of social influence, and as a Latino youth, it will require the application of counselling skills in a culturally sensitive manner. The first step in the process will be to identify and acknowledge the basic differences between my culture and John’s culture including gender, sexual orientation, age, maturity, religion, spirituality, family history, socioeconomic class, and the geographic location. Recognizing and remaining sensitive to these dissimilarities will beneficial to establishing a higher degree of trust which is necessary for the counselling session.

            Several transference and counter-transference issues are expected during the counselling period. The transference issues for John will be his perception of the counselor as an invader. After being referred to me by a pastor, who had been the confidant to the family, it is very likely that John might feel betrayed or set-up. He may refuse to give up more information as he had done with his case of Ecstasy abuse. On the other hand, the countertransference issues for the counsellor will be the display of anger and judgment toward John’s lifestyle. Besides this, there will be major issues related to moral attitudes that may play a subtle and blatant role in my treatment of John’s case.            

One major challenge that is expected in the course of the counseling program is that external factors may negatively affect John’s progress. This includes the socio-economic changes beyond school, popular culture, and societal trends. I plan to counter this by helping John make new friends and by involving his parents. Time is another factor that may pose a considerable challenge, although my individualized program will account for it.

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