High School Students and Substance Abuse

Many high school students in the United States are involved in some form of substance abuse. Substances may include alcohol and marijuana, as well as other illegal or prescription drugs. Almost all substance abuse by high school students is illegal because the majority of students are under the age of 18. The knowledge of substance abuse among high school students is prevalent in research provided by organizations, teachers, and parents.

Substance abuse is common among high school students despite the use of drug resistance programs within the schools. Drug testing and drug resistance programs exist throughout many schools, but they are not always a reliable resource. On the other hand, positive peer pressure and family influence have a positive correlation for students and encourage them to not participate in substance abuse.


Countless research sources discuss that substance abuse is prevalent among high school students. The University of Michigan’s annual survey, Monitoring the Future, discovered in 2006 that over 20% of eighth-graders and about one half of all high school seniors say they have taken an illicit drug (Roan, 2007). In addition to this, 30% of seniors surveyed said they had been drunk in the last month (Roan, 2007).

When these statistics are applied to the nation, the numbers are overwhelming to think that approximately one half of all seniors have participated in substance abuse. This percentage does not even include the high school students from other grades. It would be safe to assume that about one half of all high school students are involved in substance abuse. This is a common problem that needs to be solved.

Substance abuse has grown so much that one school recently held a meeting to discuss the problem. The theme of the meeting was that drug and alcohol had become rampant at the Twin Falls High School campus. Parents and teachers were concerned that a tolerance had grown for substance abuse among the high school students. The students at the high school no longer seem to consider the prevalence of substance as a rarity or a problem (Palmer 2007).

They had become desensitized to the issue so the substance abuse problem continued to grow. Substance abuse is so common that no students would speak out at the meeting in fear of being bullied when others found out. Even some parents would not release their names in fear that their children would be harassed at school (Palmer, 2007).

High schools in the United States are aware of the amount of students who participate in substance abuse. In order to counteract this problem, drug testing and drug programs have been implemented into the school system. As many as 1,000 schools have established drug programs, according the White House Office of National Control Policy (Roan, 2007). Federal funding has also contributed to drug programs within schools. The amount of funding has increased by 400% between 2003 and 2006 (Roan, 2007).

Specifically, the Bush administration spent $8.6 million dollars on these programs last year and has requested that the budget be raised to $17.9 million for 2008 (Roan, 2007).

The main purpose of drug testing is to guide students into counseling or substance abuse programs (Roan, 2007). Schools want to catch the students before they are too deep in substance abuse. Studies have shown that a student is more likely to develop a long-term drug abuse or addiction problem if they participate in substance abuse before the age of 21 (Roan, 2007). Schools hope that drug programs will dissuade the next generation from being actively involved in substance abuse as they continue to get older.

Drug testing became popular within high schools when the Supreme Court, in 2002, ruled that schools could conduct these tests randomly. These tests were given to students involved in athletic teams or extracurricular activities (Roan, 2007). At first, the tests were met with anxiety because the public wondered what would happen to students if they were found to be participating in substance abuse.

drug abuse in school

The population worried that these students would be given a criminal record or would be made to drop out of school (Roan, 2007). As stated above, the purpose of drug testing is to find students who are participating in substance abuse and bring those students help and counseling.

Drug testing can be done in a number of ways. Schools either test randomly throughout the entire student body or only in specific athletics or extracurricular clubs. Some schools only administer tests when a student is suspected of substance abuse or are only allowed to use drug testing with parent permission or consent (Robinson, 2007). These latter circumstances are less effective because they give students a forewarning of possible drug testing so they may limit drug use momentarily.

Students may also have a forewarning within extracurricular activities or athletics, but these students may already be less likely to participate in substance abuse because of their involvement.

Despite drug testing and programs within high schools across the nation, substance abuse continues to be a commonality. The success and use of drug testing is often met by critics questioning their impact. Many schools have strayed away from initial drug programs due to the evident lack of success (Roan, 2007). Drug programs are primarily offered to students who have been found as participating in substance abuse. The problem occurs in discovering these students through drug testing.

One reason that drug testing meets great criticism is that a large margin of error has been observed in the test results. A study done by the Pediatrics Journal found that 12% of tests performed on 110 teens were subject to misinterpretations (Roan, 2007). This can be due to test malfunction or to students diluting the tests with water or finding other ways to cheat. Another common criticism is that the tests can only detect drugs used within 48 to 72 hours (Roan, 2007).

A student may have drunk alcohol four days prior to being tested and the test would not detect the alcohol. This may be by coincidence or if a student knows they will be taking drug test they will simply refrain from substance abuse for several days.

Another criticism of the actual drug testing is that it often detects legitimate prescription drug use within students (Roan, 2007). The test results positively according to these drugs but time and money is wasted as the school determines whether or not the drug usage was legitimate. Schools must use drug testing wisely and learn of any prescription drugs a student may already be using.

Schools must also be willing to cover the expenses of drug testing. Drug tests cost approximately $15 to $30 for each individual test. When this cost is multiplied by several hundred students, it can easily reach thousands of dollars. Grants from the U. S. government are available to schools to cover these costs (Roan, 2007). Problems occur when schools realize a substance abuse problem exists, but they are unable to cover the costs of all the tests needed.

It is hoped that funding will be made available so that they can attempt to make an impact on the problem.

Drug testing and programs may not be making as great an impact as one would hope, but one study discovered that social capital has a positive correlation to high school students to not participate in substance abuse. A researcher from Bowling Green State University surveyed 590 students from two high schools with questions concerning high-risk behavior such as substance abuse (Curran, 2007). It was concluded that students were less likely to participate in substance abuse if they came from a supporting or healthy family climate (Curran, 2007).

Another study showed that a student’s peers, siblings, and families affected their self-esteem which in turn affected their likelihood of substance abuse (Shulman, 2007). When a student is encouraged by friends and family, their self-esteem is very high. These students believe that they can reach any goals and are also very motivated. When faced with the temptation of participating in substance abuse, they are more likely to refuse because of their confidence.

They do not need to feel accepted by others because they are already encouraged by those around them (Shulman, 2007). The downfall to this theory occurs when a student’s peers, siblings, or family members are not encouraging or participate in substance abuse. Students mimic these negative actions rather than the positive.

The issue of substance abuse is very common among high school students in the United States. Despite the amount of drug testing and programs, research shows that many students continue to participate in substance abuse. The numbers continue to rise and researchers are still looking for answers of how this problem can be solved. Positive peer pressure and family life encourage students to resist participation but America must still discover ways to discourage high school students from substance abuse.

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