Positive School Environment May Lower Drug Abuse Risks

One of the main strategies schools use to prevent students from using street drugs is drug testing. Testing proponents believe it’s a deterrent for at-risk athletes and students, but some experts disagree, saying it’s not at all effective at discouraging drug use among high school students. A new study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs finds that testing had no impact on the likelihood that a student would later experiment with marijuana, cigarettes or alcohol. Daniel Romer, Ph.D., of the University of Pennsylvania Annenberg Public Policy Center, said that there’s no evidence that testing works as a preventative measure. It may, in some cases, prevent kids from using the particular drug that the school is testing for, which is usually marijuana. Moreover, Romer says it’s not usually the kids that are being tested that are most likely to use drugs. Athletes and those that participate in school clubs are not typically the most at-risk students for drug use. However, the study found that students who report a positive school climate were less likely to engage in drug use. In an initial interview, students were asked about their school environment. Clear rules and a mutual respect between students and teachers were the main requirements for a school to possess a positive climate. Over the following year, the students were asked to report about drug and alcohol use. The students that had a positive school climate were about 20 percent less likely to try marijuana and 15 percent less likely to smoke cigarettes. While a positive school environment was not based on a set of established criteria, there are programs available for helping schools create a more respectful climate, says Romer. The positive school environment made an impact on drug use, but it did not prevent students from consuming alcohol. By the second interview, two-thirds of the students participating said that they had tried alcohol. Romer says that the lack of impact on drinking rates may be because drinking has become “normative” for high school students. Despite a legal drinking age of 21, many students are engaging in alcohol consumption well before that age. The researchers say that this is not surprising, given that alcohol advertising has permeated the American culture. For instance, it’s unlikely that a high school student could watch a football game on television without exposure to images of attractive young adults consuming alcohol and having a good time. Teens that consume alcohol encounter all of the same risks that adults do, but they’re less equipped to handle them. Drinking is associated with an increased likelihood of injury, involvement in vehicular accidents and engaging in risky sexual behaviors that could result in a sexually transmitted disease or an unplanned pregnancy. It can also result in a dangerous addiction which often requires treatment for alcoholism to break.  

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