Substance Abuse in Middle School

Many parents of middle-school students feel that discussing the dangers of substance abuse can wait a few years until their child is in high school. They couldn’t be more wrong.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that about 40 percent of 8th graders have tried alcohol and 20 percent report using some type of illegal drug.  Besides alcohol, the substances that are most often abused by middle school students are

  • marijuana
  • non-prescription cough medicine
  • inhalants

About 15 percent of students report having tried these substances.  Other drugs used by smaller percentages of middle school students include Vicodin, OxyContin and other prescription drugs.

Children Growing Up Faster

Parents are often unaware that drug dealing and drug use are part of the middle school experience.  Each day of the school year at most middle schools, some students will attend class under the influence of alcohol or drugs.  Unfortunately, the students who use illegal substances and alcohol are often among the most popular kids at their school.  Since middle school aged children are particularly susceptible to peer pressure, many decide to experiment with alcohol and drugs after seeing and hearing that other kids are doing it.

Parents are usually the last to know that their middle school aged child has a substance abuse problem.  When children move from elementary school to middle school, many parents decide that it’s time to step back and become less involved in their child’s life.  They are unaware of the warning signs of substance abuse and often find out the truth only after their child has developed a serious problem.

ABC News recently reported on a Virginia teenager who began using marijuana in middle school.  Seventeen-year-old Kevin Thomas had become addicted to marijuana shortly after he first tried it at age 13.  Kevin’s mother thought she knew her son well, but she was unaware of his problem.  He lost interest in school and stopped attending classes, which landed him in juvenile court.  At an age when he should have been enjoying high school and making plans for his future, he entered a residential rehabilitation program to treat his addiction.

These are some tips for parents who want to keep their teenager alcohol and drug free:

•    Talk to your child about the dangers of substance abuse.  Discuss the physical, psychological and social damages that come with the abuse of alcohol and drugs.
•    Make sure your child knows that you oppose the use of illegal drugs and the recreational use of prescription drugs.
•    Your actions speak louder than your words, so limit your own use of alcohol and avoid using illegal drugs.
•    Get to know your child’s friends.  Keep track of where your child is at all times.
•    Keep the lines of communication open so your child will not be afraid to come to you with questions about drugs and alcohol.
•    Pay attention to your child’s positive behavior and praise his or her accomplishments.

Popular culture often depicts drinking and drug use as fun activities that have no negative consequences, leading most teens and preteens have to have a skewed perception.  Parents and teachers must change this perception by educating children and teenagers about the true dangers of drug and alcohol abuse.  This education shouldn’t wait until high school, but must being in elementary and middle school.