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Surprising Findings About School Policies That Prevent Pot Use

Although schools pride themselves on their strict anti-drug use stance, they may be inadvertently encouraging teens to experiment with drugs. Schools with stringent suspension policies for drug infractions are not as effective at preventing future drug use as those that offer pot recovery counseling.

Abstinence and Counseling More Effective Than Suspensions

A study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that among schools that give suspensions to students for drug use, those students were two times more likely to get caught again for engaging in illicit drug use the following year. Students who received counseling, however, were 50 percent less likely to be found engaging in drug use the following year. Researchers used data from the International Youth Development Study, which included 3,264 students in grades 7 and 9 from both the United States and Australia. The researchers found that schools with abstinence or counseling policies had lower incidences of drug abuse, while schools with punitive policies and low policy enforcement had rising rates of drug abuse. At schools with out-of-school suspension policies, students were 1.6 times more likely to use marijuana the following year. Researchers noted with surprise that this held true for all students, not just students who received a suspension for pot smoking. Based on their findings, the study’s authors felt confident recommending a three-step approach to combating student drug abuse:

  • Teaching and encouraging a culture of abstinence from drug use
  • Enforcing existing policies around not using drugs
  • Providing counseling for students caught using drugs

One caveat about these findings: Correlation does not equal causation. Although the researchers screened for other factors, they were quick to point out that just because schools with strong punitive policies saw a higher rate of marijuana use among students may not mean the policies caused the rate increase. Other unidentified factors may be at work, and further study is needed.

Suspension Policies Do Not Deter Drug Experimentation

School suspension policies do not deter kids from using drugs. In fact, teens who are already experimenting with drugs such as marijuana may be happy to have a legitimate reason to stay home from school. Once they are suspended, they can stay home, sleep late, watch television, and smoke more pot. In this sense, school suspensions may actually reward destructive behavior rather than discourage it. Another reason school suspension policies do not necessarily deter future drug abuse is many policies are inadequately enforced. Some students get off with a warning, while others may face suspension. When actions have consequences, policies have a better chance of working. If consequences for policy violations aren’t enforced consistently, students quickly learn that taking drugs is no big deal. Although their schools have strong policies against drug use, if policies are not enforced, it is as if the policies were not there in the first place. Lastly, when the punishment is harsh even for a first infraction, students may feel it is worth the risk to experiment with drugs a second time. When students have already faced suspension, it becomes less frightening for them the second time around. Suspensions are not the deterrent they are meant to be with many teens.

The Most Important Factor Affecting Teen Marijuana Use

If threats, police intervention, suspension, and expulsion do not deter kids from smoking marijuana, what does? Good relationships between teens and teachers appear to be an important factor deterring kids from smoking pot in later years. At some schools, they have a policy of students discussing the consequences of smoking pot with a teacher, rather than with a counselor, nurse, or police officer. These schools saw a 50 percent decrease in subsequent pot-smoking incidences in later years.

While this study did not explore the reason, other studies point to positive role models as an effective means of deterring drug abuse and experimentation. When teens have good adult role models in their lives, they are less likely to experiment with drugs. Many studies demonstrate that supportive, loving parents who take an active interest in their children’s lives can deter teens from experimenting with drugs. Other adults who demonstrate compassion, care, and positive behavior can also dissuade teens from experimenting with drugs.

The Importance of Discouraging Marijuana Use Among Teens

Given the push throughout the nation to legalize marijuana as a harmless recreational drug, why bother discouraging teens from smoking pot? Many proponents of legal marijuana compare smoking pot to smoking tobacco cigarettes. They point out that pot smoking causes fewer cases of lung cancer, for example, than smoking tobacco. Adults themselves who previously experimented with smoking marijuana may not see the harm with teens experimenting with the drug. The problem with teens experimenting with marijuana is the same as teens experimenting with tobacco, alcohol, and other substances. Experimentation can mark the start of an ongoing quest to find a stronger, better, and longer-lasting high. Eventually, teens may find themselves addicted to drugs and alcohol or facing other dangers like a criminal conviction or death from an overdose.

Marijuana, a Gateway Drug

Tobacco, alcohol, and marijuana are often referred to as “gateway” drugs, meaning children or teens who experiment with any of these may end up hooked on harder substances later on. A study from Columbia University’s Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found that:

  • Children aged 12 to 17 who use marijuana are 85 percent more likely to use cocaine.
  • Children who drink alcohol are 50 percent more likely to use cocaine.
  • Children who smoke are 19 percent more likely to use cocaine.
  • Adults who used marijuana as kids and teens are 17 percent more likely to become regular cocaine users later on.

Marijuana and other gateway drugs predispose people to try other drugs through several different actions:

  • Social acceptance: Using marijuana, tobacco, or alcohol makes it socially acceptable to use other drugs. A teen’s friends who like drinking or smoking pot may also experiment with snorting cocaine or trying ecstasy, for example.
  • Ease of finding drugs: The same dealer who sells pot may sell other drugs or may know someone who does. It becomes easier to find drugs once you start using them.
  • Psychological dependence: Teens find relief in the temporary high of marijuana and alcohol. They find it easier to cope with life’s problems through substance abuse than through learning better communications and life skills. Soon, psychological dependency can result.
  • Brain chemistry:Marijuana affects a teen’s developing brain, predisposing him or her to drug abuse later on. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports chemicals found in marijuana — called cannabinoids — decrease dopamine sensitivity. Experiments in adolescent rodents show the brain reacts less to dopamine’s pleasure-stimulating effects after exposure to cannabinoids. This may be one of the reasons early exposure to gateway drugs such as pot makes it more likely teens will try other drugs. It takes different substances in increasing amounts to stimulate the dopamine receptors and create pleasurable feelings.

Although trying alcohol, tobacco, or marijuana does not necessarily mean a teen is going to end up hooked on drugs, numerous studies provide evidence that once teens begin experimenting with illicit substances, chances are higher that they will continue experimenting unless adults intervene.

Spotting Teen Drug Abuse

Parents and teachers should learn the signs of teen drug abuse. In addition to marijuana’s telltale sweet odor, which tends to cling to clothing and hair after someone smokes pot, teens who smoke pot often show the following signs:

  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Increased appetite
  • Impaired memory
  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Poor grooming
  • Falling grades
  • Irregular school attendance
  • Lack of interest in hobbies
  • Changing groups of friends

Teens may also hide drug paraphernalia in their backpacks, lockers, or bedrooms. Rolling papers, bent paperclips (to hold a joint), small pipes, or large, elaborate smoking equipment are all used to smoke marijuana. In states where marijuana is legal, teens may have access to baked goods containing marijuana. Wrappers from brownies, cookies, and other foods may be left around. Look at the ingredient list or the wrapper for “THC” (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the active ingredient found in marijuana. By law, edible forms of pot must include the amount of THC in the product.

Pot Recovery Counseling Works

Unfortunately, by the time teens and adults enter pot recovery counseling, many of them have been abusing marijuana for many years. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, on average, adults seeking pot recovery counseling had been smoking pot for over a decade and had tried to quit at least six times on their own. Getting help for teens experimenting with gateway drugs is extremely important to prevent long-term abuse. Pot recovery counseling works. As the American-Australian study cited at the start of this article suggests, recovery counseling or counseling in any form may be more effective than punitive measures to discourage drug use in the future. Teens who receive counseling are less likely to take drugs later. Recovery counseling may vary according to the counselor and rehab center. Most recovery centers offer psychological counseling as well as addiction and recovery counseling, group sessions, and support from former addicts. Individual and group therapy may be included. Typical forms of therapy used in treatment may include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: This type of therapy helps people identify problematic behaviors and thoughts. The goal is to change these behaviors to prevent future drug use.
  • Contingency Management: This is a form of therapy that uses rewards for desired behaviors. Rewards may be taken away if someone starts using drugs again.
  • Motivational Enhancement Therapy: This type of therapy helps people find their own internal motivation to stop taking drugs.

One or more of these therapies may be used, and additional resources may be suggested at a marijuana rehab center.

Ideas to Help Teens

Parents and teachers can use these strategies to help teens stop smoking marijuana:

  • Meet privately with the teen. Listen to his or her side of the story.
  • Explain your concerns to them, using “I” statements, as in, “I’m worried about you. I want you to be successful in life, but you can’t be successful if you’re smoking pot. It’s going to cloud your judgment and keep you from graduating and going to college.”
  • Help teens find their own motivation to quit. If they love sports, for example, help them understand athletes can’t smoke pot and remain at the top of their game. It’s a banned substance, and, if they’re caught, they may get banned from playing their favorite sports.
  • Use rewards, such as favorite video games, permission to attend a ski trip, or something else highly desired, to reward avoidance of drugs. Take away the rewards if the person reverts to using drugs.
  • Be a friend. Many teens struggle with loneliness and a sense of alienation, even if they appear to be surrounded by friends. As an adult, you know this is just a passing feeling, but to kids, it can feel like the end of the world. Be that port in a storm for a troubled teen, so they can turn to you instead of drugs.

Get Help for Your Drug Addiction

Marijuana abuse is nothing to laugh at despite its portrayal in films and television. Marijuana addiction destroys lives just as any other drug addiction can. Legalization has made marijuana appear to be just as harmless as taking an aspirin, but all drugs, whether legal or illegal, can be harmful. In moderate to high doses, marijuana can cause dependence. About 15 percent of people who smoke pot regularly at moderate to high doses experience withdrawal from THC, the active chemical in marijuana. Withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Nervousness
  • Sleeplessness
  • Mood swings
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Appetite changes

These symptoms can be managed at a pot drug treatment center. Pot recovery counseling is available at The Ranch PA, a private drug and alcohol treatment facility in Pennsylvania. We can help people in pot recovery counseling manage withdrawal symptoms. For those hoping they can kick the pot-smoking habit on their own, it’s often these withdrawal symptoms that make them cave in and smoke again. Going to a pot drug treatment center can help you follow through on your efforts to stop smoking marijuana. The Ranch PA offers pot recovery counseling and treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. Recovery centers on a whole-person approach to wellness. A low client-to-counselor ratio ensures individuals benefit from personalized attention as they begin recovery. Admissions are limited to a small number of clients at a time so each person can receive the individualized support they need to overcome addiction. Located in beautiful rural Pennsylvania, The Ranch PA offers a life-changing experience for those ready to embrace a healthy, drug-free lifestyle. Accredited by the Joint Commission, The Ranch PA offers comfortable accommodations, empathic staff, and a healing environment to help individuals recover from drug and alcohol abuse. Learn more about your treatment options or contact us today to get started on your path to lifelong sobriety.

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