By Dr. G. Shreekumar Menon
Mangaluru, Jan 1, 2021: An alarming number of students are putting their lives at risk by abusing drugs and alcohol. There is a high cost for not implementing best practices in drug abuse prevention for students, campuses, and the larger community. Drug abuse can have many short- and long-term negative effects including physical and mental health problems, legal consequences, and impairment in many areas of a person’s life, from school to work and interpersonal functioning. The majority of students are attending institutions of higher education to not only further their education, but also to enrich their future employment opportunities. Drug abuse can interfere with a student’s ability to be successful in attaining this goal by disrupting their ability to finish course work.
Drug misuse can have lifelong consequences. A student with a drug arrest or policy violation may find their career choices limited, and may in fact be ineligible for employment in the career path they have chosen. Many employers are screening applicants and current employees for drug use and reviewing public social media accounts for indicators of substance use. Even if a student is not disqualified from a specific career field, in a competitive employment environment an employer may choose an applicant with no indication of drug abuse over an applicant who has a known history of drug abuse.
Among the many factors influencing drugs and substances abuse among University students is weak awareness about the consequences of abusing drugs. Curriculum is very often only focussed on mainstream education and skip valuable life lessons. Organizing awareness seminar every semester helps to deal with the addiction problems asstudents come to understand the dangers of drugs abused and the effects these drug abuse have on their social and economic lives. This helps them change their minds against drugs completely.Students need to be enlightened with facts and taking steps to bust myths that surround drug and alcohol consumption and taking steps to debunk the hype surrounding drug and alcohol use, that are often sustained by advertisements in media and movies. A paramount aim of every awareness program is to promote prevention. The awareness programs should be so designed so as to enhance the student’s self-esteem, confidence, inculcate ways of thinking that eliminates cravings and instils in them strong motivation to make better choices. The awareness programs should be able to throw light on the consequential risks of drug abuse like youth violence, delinquency, discontinuation of studies, risky sexual behaviour and teen pregnancy. Involvement in drug related crimes can be devastating for the drug addict and their immediate family members. Academic failures can also lead to drug abuse, as also factors like liking the institution, teachers, homework loads, assessments and academic performance. Other important factors impacting drug consumption are familial relationships, parental control, and discords in the family. Hence, any awareness programs should focus also on parental discipline, family cohesion and parental monitoring.Apart from awareness campaigns other methods like guiding and counselling affected victims, controlled student budget by the parents, and eradication of drug selling points near the Universities can have a significant impact in controlling the drug menace.
The relationship between drugs and crimes are very complex, but at the student level it can involve stealing to finance drug consumption, taking recourse to prostitution, and even enticing other students by supplying drugs. Such habits can lead to student gang wars, violence, molestation and examination malpractices.
Thus, there is need for continuous drug abuse awareness campaigns in all institutions of learning to enable students to get knowledge abouttheharmful effects of drug and substance abuse. There is also need to involve all the stakeholders including the school/college administration, lecturers, parents and the community around the University in the effort to create awareness about harmful effects of drug abuse among students. This can be achieved by exposing the students to drug abuse education early in the University, modelling responsible behaviours, instituting family rules, becoming more aware of youth culture, recognizing the early signs of drug abuse and by maintaining communication with the students on drug and substance addiction and how to refrain from drug abuse. Every University should ensure that the drug and substance abuse awareness campaigns are carried out in the University regularly and that a drug abuse prevention course should be taught to every student who passes out of the University.
In addition to the negative impacts drug abuse can have on an individual, campus safety and law enforcement there is also the need to consider the negative effects on the entire community. Traffic accidents, violence, property crimes, sex abuse and molestation cases increase when drugs are involved. For a campus community, drug abuse can have harmful effects on student success and retention, and thereby impact the overall health and resilience of a campus community.
Institutions of higher education must work diligently to creatively and proactively address the ongoing challenge of drug abuse. Drug abuse prevention programs on college campuses should be multidisciplinary and involve the entire campus and surrounding community environment in which students live and learn. Police and student welfare officials are critical members of the campus drug prevention coalition as first-hand witnesses to the negative impact of drug abuse. This coalition must work together to create a culture of responsible choices and help today’s youth understand the importance of preventing drug abuse. Most individuals do not become involved with substances solely on the basis of personal characteristics. Rather, they are influenced by factors in the environment such as the rules and regulations of social institutions; community norms; mass media messages; and the accessibility of alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs. Effective prevention requires making appropriate modifications to the community at large.
Successful communities work together to gather data, evaluate trends, and make continual adjustments to improve community responses and services. Environmental strategies such as law and policy enforcement, prevention and social norm messaging, providing alternative activities, and increasing community connectedness can diminish the misuse and abuse of drugs to a great extent.
Appointing Drug Counsellors in every educational institution should be made mandatory. They should be entrusted to organize drug education programs, campaigns and exhibitions, public talks, anti-drug abuse badge schemes, parent group schemes, and neighbourhood schemes. Teenagers may not always respond well to parents and teachers lecturing them about the dangers of drug abuse, but what if the advice came from videos made by their peers? Hence it is imperative that peer student groups be formed to lead the anti-drugs campaigns. Students should be entrusted to create promotional material, slogans, and positive messaging for at-risk youths. Building young people’s resilience and confidence in themselves, combined with a strong understanding of what drugs can do to the mind and body, can be great game-changers. A mental health self-help list should be prepared in every institute to guide troubled students on the mental health journey. A team should be in place to train parents, teachers and educators to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental health problems in students. There should be guidance on sleep strategies, stress management, especially pre-examination stress issues, and other learning related issues. Another important aspect is to enable students to confront and share openly their struggles with drug abuse. When they share their struggles with their peers and with their teachers they become empowered to stand up and say: this is not a stigma issue. This is something we should all be talking about and it can start with me.
Parental engagement in drug prevention programs is of great importance as the family is the primary context of student development. The family is the primary physical, psychological, social and spiritual setting which nurtures students into responsible members of society. Presently, there is a glaring under-involvement of parents in the anti-drugs campaigns, which needs to be changed. The importance of parental engagement in student anti-drug programs is very essential as cultivating family resources and enhancing family functioning are the keys to any successful anti-drugs campaign.
The monstrous problem of drug abuse can be resolved to a great extent if universities have a robust and continuous anti-drugs awareness programs. Being a multi-dimensional problem it requires multifaceted, and continuous interventional programs.
Dr. G. Shreekumar Menon IRS (Rtd) Ph.D: Former Director General of National Academy of Customs Indirect Taxes and Narcotics & Multi-Disciplinary School Of Economic Intelligence India; Fellow, James Martin Centre For Non Proliferation Studies, USA; Fellow, Centre for International Trade & Security, University of Georgia, USA; Public Administration, Maxwell School of Public Administration, Syracuse University, U.S.A.; AOTS Scholar, Japan. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org