School Teachers Seeing More Kids Affected by Addiction at Home
Addiction in the Home
It is safe to say that a lot of young people have their first experience with drugs when they are still young enough to be in school. It might be due to exposure to other people using drugs, or being offered drugs by their peers. Needless to say, if someone in the home is using drugs or alcohol, the experience can have a noticeable impact on a young person’s social life and education. Therefore, the fact that teachers are witnessing rising rates of students impacted by substance use disorder at home is troubling, to say the least.
Survey of Substance Use Disorder in Students
The West Virginia Clinical and Translational Science Institute, along with Dr. Kim Horn helped to fund a survey of approximately 2,200 teachers and counselors in public schools. Overall, the survey includes 130 questions concentrating on measuring how teachers viewed the opioid crisis. Although, there were also more general questions asked about addiction.
According to the data:
- Nearly 3/4 report witnessing a recent increase in the number of students in their schools affected by addicted parents and caregivers in their homes
- About 50% of those teachers reported a “significant” rise in such students
- Only 6% of teachers or counselors noted a decrease or no change
- 21% of teachers or counselors said they didn’t know either way
The results present here were based on responses received as of the end of January. They represent 49 counties, making up about 10% of the state’s public school teachers and counselors.
Experts Behind the Survey
Dr. Sara Anderson is an assistant professor of learning sciences and human development. She is also on the Monongalia County Board of Education. According to Dr. Anderson, this survey is ongoing, being conducted by professors at the West Virginia University College of Education and Human Services. Additionally, the state Department of Education’s Office of Special Education assists with the survey, as well as research assistance provided by:
- Miles Payne
- Megan Mikesell
- Sloane Glover
She adds that most of the participants have been teachers, thus the sample population so far reflects the typical profile of a West Virginia teacher. However, Anderson also notes that this is a convenience poll, not a random sampling. Therefore, she says it’s not a comprehensive representation of statewide statistics.
Teachers Struggle with Impact of Addiction
Another expert involved in the study is Dr. Jessica Troilo, an associate professor of learning sciences and human development. Dr. Troilo is also a WVU Extension parenting specialist. She states that the survey also included a number of other questions for teacher, such as:
- How they view their ability to handle their students
- What training and resources they believe they need to be more effective
In addition to the range of multiple-choice questions, the survey allows teachers to write about their feelings on these subjects. According to Dr. Troilo, while it is well known that many people in active addiction are also parents, so we see the impact on their children, very little is known about the unique challenges teachers may be facing. Troilo said,
“That was the purpose of our study. We were looking for research on what teachers are experiencing, and we couldn’t find anything.”
According to the responses on this study, around 35% of teachers who responded said they feel frequently or always “burned out.”
Included in reports on the survey, one teacher wrote:
“I wish back in the 1980s in college, that I had chosen another profession. I see my peers in other professions happy and pleased with their careers at this point, at least not struggling. I have been struggling the entire time, all these years, and it only gets worse. And I feel I am more equipped than 95 percent of most teachers in this field with my background experiences.”
Another individual helping with the study is Frankie Tack, a clinical assistant professor
“Teachers talked about having to wash the kids’ clothes at school. Letting kids not participate in class and go over to a corner on a mat and sleep because they hadn’t gotten sleep the night before because people were in and out of the home. Having extra snacks during the day because they don’t have enough food at home. Just all kinds of things that normally wouldn’t happen in the classroom.”
With more school staff members interacting with children growing up in unstable environments due to addiction, it only makes sense that teachers should be provided with resources that help them create a supportive environment at school.
Helping School Teachers to Help Students
After examining the data, the professors’ make a few recommendations for helping address the issues teachers face. So far, these suggestions include:
- Increasing teacher training on handling students affected by addiction in the home
- Increased training on how to interact with the families of these students
- More support from specialized staff like social workers, counselors and other mental health professionals
- Encourage discussion on such topics and how to address them among teachers
- Provide National Association for Children of Addiction educator kits
- Offer information on Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous support groups for friends and family members of affect students
Dr. Anderson has reported that respondents have grown since the initial 2,200 at the end of January. Now the survey includes over 2,700 teachers and counselors. She adds that the professors will produce a final report on the study’s findings over the summer. Hopefully, this final report will provide a wealth of insight and recommendations for ways to help teachers effectively support students growing up around addiction.
Statistics found in this study are made only more tragic when you consider that a lot of people end up suffering mental health and substance abuse issues later in life due to some childhood trauma. Therefore, the current drug crisis raging across the country could be taking an already vicious cycle of trauma and disorders and making it worse.
Family Recovery Programs
As many teachers and counselors involved in this survey can attest to, addiction is a family disease. Drug and alcohol abuse is not something that only impacts the individual. In fact, it almost always hurts the people closest to the person who is suffering the most. That is why family therapy is another important element of building a strong foundation in recovery.
It can be extremely important for parents or guardians to involve their children in their recovery when trying to create a healthier home. Establishing healthy boundaries and helping their loved ones understand their illness can make a remarkable difference. Family therapy is meant to help people work together with the people they love most to overcome obstacles. In fact, studies show family therapy results in:
- Lower relapse rates
- Increased happiness in the family
- Better functioning in children with addicted parents
Without a doubt, a critical part of helping children and young adults living in homes with an addicted loved one is providing comprehensive treatment opportunities. When a part, guardian, or sibling is suffering with substance use disorder, the impact on an individual can be overwhelming. Not only do teachers deserve resources for helping work with these students and their families, but the ones who struggle deserve quality care.
The Orchid Recovery Program at Palm Partners believes in keeping the family involved in the recovery process. One way we emphasize the inclusion of the family in their loved ones recovery plan is with our Family Recovery Program.