Getting Help for Substance Abuse: Addressing the Stigma That Can Be a Barrier
Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) continues to address substance use and how it can affect the community at large and our schools, and share resources for our community. This week, we are taking a closer look at the stigma that may prevent students and families from getting help with substance abuse. We also work closely with our colleagues in the Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition of Alexandria, which is another great resource for families.
Stigma is a form of discrimination against individuals who use drugs and develop addiction as a result. Children and youth use substances for different reasons, and stigma is associated with a lack of understanding of how factors like mental health needs, trauma, family conflicts or peer influence and environmental factors contribute to drug use. Stigma is also associated with a lack of understanding about how toxins in drugs lead to progressive brain development of tolerance, increased drug use over a period of time and the development of cravings and withdrawals because the brain becomes dependent on the use of these substances. Also, another form of stigma is related to the limited comprehension of how the addiction, treatment and recovery process works. ACPS substance abuse services target these factors that contribute to stigma by providing education and early intervention information regarding drug use behaviors to help children and their families understand these problems and access services.
In ACPS, we encourage our students and families dealing with substance abuse to reach out to the Department of Student Services and Equity (DSSE) for support and assistance. We have substance abuse specialists trained to help our students and families with this issue. We know that by placing a label on a problem, it may lead to stigma for those who are seeking help but this does not have to be the case when support is caring and sensitive. When talking about substance use, Johns Hopkins Medicine (JHM) states that the use of disparaging or judgmental terms serve as a “major barrier to overcoming the challenges of addiction and overdose in the community we serve.” The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) finds that there is much work to be done in removing the stigma around substance use disorders and that people with addiction continue to be blamed for their disease. NIDA says even though medicine reached a consensus that addiction is a “complex brain disorder with behavioral components,” many people still view it as a result of moral weakness and flawed character.
At ACPS, DSSE has adopted a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) approach that includes early and advanced intervention services when it comes to our attention that a student is involved with a substance, as well as general prevention services to educate and make students aware of the dangers of becoming involved with substances. A safe and supportive school environment is important for all of our students. We are partners with our families to educate them and provide resources and information to assist families in getting help for students, as that is their primary responsibility as parents and guardians.
DSSE supports prevention and early intervention programs that vary according to a student’s individual needs. These supports include programs to educate students about the harmful effects of illegal drugs and alcohol and the misuse of drugs and other substances. Staff programs are directed toward the identification of substance use, as well as how to make a referral to one of our substance abuse specialists for those students who may need intervention. The department's substance abuse prevention and early intervention can provide group experiences, individual counseling and assessment, and other programs. Additionally, referrals may be offered to students and parents to community agencies for assistance, at the parent's expense.
It is unsafe for students to have illegal substances in our schools. ACPS has policies and regulations to address this issue. ACPS policies and regulations mandate that a student shall not possess, use, and/or distribute alcohol, tobacco, and/or tobacco products or other drugs on school property, on school buses or during school activities, on or off school property. This includes, but may not be limited to, smokeless tobacco, e-cigarettes, anabolic steroids, look-alike drugs, drug paraphernalia and any prescription or non-prescription drugs not possessed or used in accordance with policy.
Along with following our policies, ACPS also takes a restorative approach to meeting the needs of our students who may be struggling with substance abuse. These learned behaviors can be addressed by helping our students examine and understand the overall impact of their behavior on the school community. If a student is suspended for a first offense, for example, there is a seminar that students and their families can attend. For more information, please review our ACPS Student Code of Conduct.
ACPS is responsive and will continue to be proactive in making sure that our students and families have information that is important to keeping our schools and students safe. The ACPS Substance Abuse Prevention & Educational Intervention webpage provides information and resources, including fact sheets on fentanyl for youth and adults available in English, Spanish, Amharic and Arabic.
- Substance Abuse and Prevention