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Nabla, a middle aged woman, routinely takes her fourteen year old son for a health checkup. The teenager had developed an obsession for drugs which had been effectively managed by psychiatrists/psychotherapists. In order to prevent a possible relapse, the worried mother takes his only son to the hospital for a therapy session. Initially Nabla’s son had started sniffing fevicol SR, a synthetic adhesive, and gradually besides getting addicted to its use had tried several other drugs making him overly dependent on them. The product (fevicol SR) contains a volatile chemical toluene (C6H5CH3), the vapors of which cause temporary euphoria by affecting the brain and nervous system.

Substance abuse in children is on rise in the valley. Being embroiled in strife and turbulence from past 30 years, the valley has offered a decent ground for this disturbing trend. Owing to an easy access to addictive substances such as glues, whiteners, nail polish thinners, petrol, shoe polish etc. the prevalence of substance abuse in low age group is increasing. These substances, broadly categorized as “inhalants” invite several health hazards and make an individual to try potentially more severe drugs like heroin, cannabis, opium, hemp, marijuana, cocaine etc.

The vulnerability to substance abuse starts from home itself. Flawed parenting is the biggest reason why children go astray. Parental discord, domestic violence, communication gap (lack of family involvement), evasiveness, performance pressure etc are some of the factors that increase the propensity of substance abuse among children. Peer group influence, lavishness, family history, recreational use of drugs, stress alleviation, love affairs etc are also responsible for this alarming trend. Drug addiction is a chronic disease characterized by drug seeking and use that is compulsive, or difficult to control despite harmful consequences. Onset of substance abuse during the formative years interferes with academic and social development of a learner.

The abuse of illicit substances/psychotropic drugs has a catastrophic impact on school performance in children and teens. Students under the influence of such substances are not ready to learn and are at a risk of long-term impairment of cognitive ability and memory.  In majority of cases, grades suffer owing to lack of energy, wavering of focus and loss of drive. Ultimately, the addicted student drops out from the school.

It has been observed that substance abuse is highly prevalent in the age group of 15-20 years. A systematic study of the problem of drug addiction in the state of Jammu and Kashmir has revealed that 40% of the youngsters fall prey to drug abuse which includes both boys and girls in the age group of 16-25 years (J & K state human rights commission report). Its percentage declines with age and maturity. Therefore, it becomes compulsory to take proper care of children in the vulnerable years.

At this stage teachers, parents and society act as primary and secondary caregivers while as a counselor acts as a tertiary caregiver. The absence of the tertiary caregiver (counselor) in schools is something which needs to be addressed promptly.  Students spend the major part of their day in school. They are likely to spend more time in the school environment around teachers than at home with their parents, making the school’s social environment a key factor in shaping up their personality. Educational institutions can help in the prevention of drug abuse by providing education about this menace at different levels of educational process.

Teachers often serve as highly influential role models to students. In such circumstances, the role of a teacher assumes all the more importance. A teacher has to be a magician.He/She should be able to read the psyche of the learners. Besides the usual classroom transaction, a teacher has to step in the shoes of a professional counselor. While facilitating a learner in his academic pursuits, a teacher, at the same time has to focus on the emotional, social, vocational and health related concerns of a child. Listening to the problems of the child with an open and non-judgmental attitude is an effective strategy to alleviate the distress, eliminate interpersonal conflict, and give a proper identity to the child. Teachers can help build a child’s self-esteem and strengthen inter-personal skills.

If a teacher observes that a student is not oriented, has stain marks on his extremities, is having chemical odor on his clothes and breath, has lost interest in normal activities, has rashes in the area of mouth, appears intoxicated, has slurred speech, prefers isolation, has numbness and tingling in hands and feet, complains of headache, nausea, abdominal pain etc then he must try to get into the details and search for the possible causes of this unusual behavior. It is at this stage where the teacher has to bring out the psychoanalyst in him and nip the evil in the bud.

Prevention of substance abuse would be a better strategy than attempting to treat the disease after its onset. It is the duty of parents to take proper care and maintaina good vigil on their wards.                                                             Young people in schools and colleges sit, eat and study together. New ideas and experiments keep circulating in these groups influencing behavioral patterns and attitudinal changes. An effective supervisory mechanism should be devised in schools to identify the life style and habits of peer groups so that no innocent student gives in to peer group pressure. Social groups, parents, teachers, doctors, religious leaders will have to step in with more conviction so that the deterioration is stemmed.

The author is a freelance writer.

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