Substance Abuse And Terms Of Surrender

Newtown Bee Editorial

Last week the Board of Education put the finishing touches on its revised substance abuse policy, just in time for the new rules to be distributed to students as they head back to school. The message, as always, is that students are welcome back in the schools – drugs and alcohol are not.

The policy revisions are intended to show even less tolerance for substance abuse than before. If school officials find that a student either possesses or is under the influence of alcohol or drugs at school or school-related activities, that student will face suspension and formal evaluation for substance abuse problems by a licensed agency, followed by treatment and a contract stipulating a change in behavior. If a crime has been committed, the police will be called in as well. Second offenders, and those caught for the first time selling or distributing alcohol or drugs either on or off school grounds, will be subject to similar investigations and assessments, except that the steps lead to expulsion rather than suspension.

The revised policy is aggressive, which is good. It seeks to respond to students in need of intervention and treatment while raising the stakes for the consequences of making poor choices about drugs and alcohol. It also emphasizes the importance of forming a partnership with families, educators, and substance abuse treatment professionals in attacking the problem. We have to remember, however, that the schools are a secondary front in our community’s continuing battle with substance abuse. The school system is not, as the revised policy asserts, “the central developmental institution of the community’s youth.” The family is the central institution for childhood development – always has been, and always will be.

So now is a good time of year for every family to think about reviewing its own substance abuse policy. First, parents should know the warning signs of alcohol and substance abuse. They include: increased anger and defiance; overreaction to ordinary problems or advice and criticism; uncharacteristic isolation and withdrawal; secrecy about behaviors and whereabouts; loss of interest in hobbies and activities; and increased financial problems leading to excessive borrowing or even stealing from family and friends.

Honest self-examination is good for every family. Does your family have a history of substance abuse? Do family members have trouble keeping track of each other? Is there a lack of clear rules regarding alcohol and other drug use? Do parents have trouble setting consistent expectations and limits for their children? Is there conflict and abuse within the family? Has a breadwinner lost a job? If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” researchers say your family is at risk for substance abuse.

Fortunately, studies have also revealed “protective” factors for families that should form the core of every family’s defense against substance abuse. They include: close family relationships; consistency in parenting; respect for and involvement in education; clear expectations and limits regarding alcohol and other drug use; shared family responsibilities including chores and decision making; and the encouragement of supportive relationships with caring adults beyond the immediate family.

We expect a lot of our schools, and to their credit they work very hard to live up to those expectations. But in the continuing battle to get young people to make wise choices about alcohol and drugs, families are the front lines. When red flags go up in the schools, it usually means white flags have gone up at home. As kids head back to school, every family should think again about its terms of surrender.

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