How to raise the topic of suspected drug use
As a well-being coordinator you may need to highlight your concerns about drug use when you suspect a student may be having difficulties.
This can be difficult for teachers who themselves may not feel completely comfortable with this topic of conversation.
Young people are usually given pretty clear messages by adults and society in general that drug use is bad or a negative behaviour. As a result it is normal for a student to be fearful of being “caught” or “told off” for trying or using drugs.
If you approach a young person about drug use concerns in a way that creates or accentuates this fear then you are likely to trigger a “flight or fight” response in a student where they will either shut down and be unresponsive or get defensive and argue.
Here are some tips for going about discussing suspected drug use in a way that will promote engagement and ensure a continued relationship with students.
- Create a sense of safety for the student by talking to them in a neutral setting or in a place where they feel comfortable such as the outside in the school grounds. Talking in an office or classroom may make a student feel like they are in trouble before you have even started.
- Don’t raise issues with a student in front of their friends or peers. It is developmentally appropriate for a young person to be more interested in what their friends think of them compared to adults-even teachers with a degree of authority.
- Be clear about your role and why you are raising the issue. Do you intend to set a punishment or consequence? Are you offering to organise support?
- Be clear about confidentiality. Who else do you need to tell about this conversation? Will you let the student’s parents/carer know?
- Raise the issue in a planned and considered way. Don’t raise the issue of drug use when a young person is already emotional or upset about another issue.
- If a young person is affected by drugs at school, set aside time later to talk at length with the student when they are not substance affected.
- Be patient. Don’t try to know everything at all costs. It may take time for a young person to trust you enough to allow you to help or organise support.
- Display an accepting attitude. Take the time to listen and respond. Let a student talk if they are comfortable rather than following a question and answer pattern of conversation. A student should experience the interaction with a well-being coordinator or teacher as warm, honest, open and flexible.
- Be authentic rather than cool.
We also recommend you read this article on engaging resistent students.