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What to Do if You Suspect a Student Is Misusing Drugs or Alcohol

What to Do if You Suspect a Student Is Misusing Drugs or Alcohol

College teachers, counselors, coaches, and other faculty members come into contact with students on a regular basis. In some cases, you may see a side of student that even their own parents don’t see. And that side may involve signs the student is using alcohol or drugs in excess, perhaps to the point of having a substance use disorder. What should you do?

What You Can do for the Individual Student

Identify the Issue

Before taking any type of action, it’s important to confirm an issue may exist. When you’re faced with a group of brand new faces, you may not yet know what behavior is typical or atypical for each student.

Once you become familiar with individual student attitudes and habits, signs of potential substance misuse may be much more obvious. This particularly applies if a student displays sudden or drastic changes in his or her behavior.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine says substance use disorder occurs when a student’s use of alcohol or other substance results in health problems or issues at work, home, or school.

Some of the signs of substance misuse can include:

  • Missing or skipping classes
  • Decrease in academic participation or performance
  • Disinterest in school or other activities
  • Neglecting personal appearance
  • Changes in appearance, such as weight loss or gain
  • Red eyes
  • Slurring words, impaired speech, confusion
  • Scent of alcohol on the breath
  • Irritability or bouts of violent behavior

Consult School Policy

If all signs and your intuition are pointing to substance misuse in one of your students, you may have the urge to reach out directly to the student to offer help. But that’s typically not the most effective path to take. You instead will want to consult your school’s specific policy regarding substance misuse in students and take action accordingly.

Informing the student’s parents of suspected substance misuse may be allowed as per school policy, but the task is often left up to the school’s administrative staff. The most you may be able to do for an individual student is pass the word along that you’ve seen troublesome signs that may indicate substance misuse.

What You Can do for Students as a Whole

Even if school policy prevents you from reaching out directly to students you suspect may be having substance misuse issues, you can still take action in your classroom or group to help students become more knowledgeable and aware.

  • Speak to your students as a group about substance misuse
  • Mention any school or nearby resources that are available for help
  • Provide an open, safe environment where students feel comfortable discussing any issues
  • Hold interactive conversations with students to outline myths and facts about substance misuse
  • Encourage students to reach out to faculty members if they, or someone they know, needs help

Recovery and School Can Mix

Students who reach out for help with a substance misuse disorder can receive it without abandoning their academic goals. Life of Purpose offers treatment for high school seniors, college, vocational and post-graduate students. Our facilities are conveniently located on or near college campuses. For more information or a list of locations, call 1-888-PURPOSE or visit

This Post Has One Comment
  1. Can you tell me what the law is in Wisconsin regarding a student who discloses substance abuse issues to a guidance counselor… does the school have to inform the parent or does the student have protected rights?


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