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Heads Up on Substance Abuse

Heads_upThere are two schools of thought on the prevention of alcohol and substance abuse. Some believe that educating our youth will intensify their curiosity and perhaps encourage them to experiment with alcohol or drugs. Others believe that educating young people will deter them from experimenting with alcohol and drugs because they will understand the psychological and physiological effects these substances have on their bodies. Either way, I am sure that if you are a middle school or high school teacher, you are aware of the dangers of alcohol and substance abuse. This article provides resources and classroom activities for educating middle and high school students about substance abuse.



Monitoring the Future Teen Survey

On December 12, 2010, Michigan University published a press release revealing the recent finding of the Monitoring the Future survey. Among other things it said, “Marijuana use is rising; ecstasy use is beginning to rise; and alcohol use is declining among U.S. teens” (Johnston, O'Malley, Bachman, Schulenberg). Although some usage has increased in the past year, the evidence suggests that taking a scientific approach to educating youth about alcohol and drug use appears to have been effective during the last decade. Many school districts provide alcohol and drug prevention education in health classes or through special programs such as D.A.R.E. There are a plethora of resources for middle school and high school educators who address these concerns with students.


  Heads_Up_teacher_edition Heads Up Resources

This year, Scholastic, in conjunction with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), launched Heads Up, a drug awareness and prevention site offering information on teen alcohol and drug use for educators, parents, and students. Teacher directions, student handouts, and additional articles are available on the "Heads Up Teacher's Edition."


The site provides many student activities and handouts that engage students in exploring the effects of drugs on their health. Below is a sampling:

  • Web Hunt: In "Questions About Drugs, Answers from Science," students uncover facts on drug abuse and addiction in the United States.
  • FACTs Into ACTion: Students engage in role-playing activities to prepare responses to peer pressure or uncomfortable situations.
  • Teen Science Investigations: In "The Case of the Teen Brain," students explore the scientific effects of drug use on health.

Find more Heads Up activities on the pages 14 Drug Education Activities and Lesson Plans & Printables, and check out "Real News About Drugs and Your Body," a compilation of articles from 2007–2008.

During Drug Facts week in the fall, NIDA sponsors a Fact Chat Day. Your students can network with other student in the United States through an online chat. The 2010 online chat transcripts are available on the NIDA Web site. The NIDA for Teens series “Mind Over Matter” supports students in grades 5–9. They also offer a FREE download, "Mind Over Matter Teacher’s Guide." A brochure for students, "Drugs: Shatter the Myths," and T-shirt logos are also available.


Marujuana_fact_sheet Choices Magazine Resources

In most schools, the topic is integrated with health or science class. However, it is easily integrated into other core subjects as well. Choices magazine (Scholastic) publishes articles on difficult topics for teens such as bullying, peer pressure, drug abuse, teen pregnancy, etc. Their companion Web site has a “Fact Sheet Archive.” These materials offer great opportunities to teach content area reading skills such as reading charts, sidebars, captions, etc. Spreadsheets and bar graphs offer opportunities to integrate with math as well. Examples of fact sheets on this topic are posted below. You will need Adobe Reader to view these files:

Studying the effects of alcohol and drugs on the human body establishes awareness. Awareness of the short-term and long-term effects may deter our youth from using alcohol or illegal substances.


Bird Literature Connections

Bird by Zetta Elliot and My Big Sister Takes Drugs by Judith Vigna are two books that can be used as read-alouds at the middle school level. A booklist “Substance Abuse Fiction for Teens is posted on Scholastic List Exchange to integrate the exploration of alcohol and drug abuse in the English language arts classroom.      


Related Resources

For more on the subject of substance abuse and teens, see "Alcohol and Drug Use" from the Center for Disease Control and "Do You Know Your Risk for Addiction?" and "GET THE FACTS: Drug Abuse Puts Your Whole Body at Risk" from Scholastic. The nonprofit Mountain View Prevention Program offers a wide range of information, and the Foundation for a Drug Free World provides videos, testimonials, and booklets. 

Please feel free to share your opinion on this topic and to tell how your school addresses these concerns.



Johnston, L. D., O'Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., & Schulenberg, J. E. (December 14, 2010). "Marijuana use is rising; ecstasy use is beginning to rise; and alcohol use is declining among U.S. teens." University of Michigan News Service: Ann Arbor, MI. Retrieved 01/30/2011 from


  • #1 Mary Blow

    Wednesday, February 09, 2011 at 11:14 AM

    Hi, Dave. I complete agree with you. Providing a positive path is essential. At our school, we have the "Connections Program." It is after school two days a week. Staff members network with kids, help with homework, and provide positive experiences for kids who are at risk. Unfortunately, despite all our efforts, we have to have a realistic approach to the barriers our students encounter and help them make positive chocies in overcoming those barriers. ~Mary

  • #2 Dave Cleinman

    Wednesday, February 09, 2011 at 02:43 AM

    Perhaps the issue is not with preventing drug abuse, but rather providing a clear path to the future for our children, and giving them something more meaningful to look forward to then the negativity they see all around them. Children in school today live in the same world that is wracked by chaos as the adults. As adults, however, we don't realize that children are equally affected by the horrid news stories, about school shootings, about never-ending wars, about an economy that is shriveling every day. They do not see a bright future for themselves, quite often, and so see no need to avoid drugs. Children will stop doing drugs when adults stop selling them, and everyone has something much brighter and better waiting for them. Time to get to work.

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