In  a couple of weeks, Red Ribbon Week will be here!  However,  I notice that many high schools are not very excited about celebrating Red Ribbon Week and consider it to be a bigger nuisance than a benefit to their school. Believe me, I totally get that.  Preparation can be a hassle, events take up a lot of time, and you have to help students see the importance of this event.  However, in my humble opinion, I feel it is our part of responsibility, as school counselors, to educate students, staff, and parents about the dangers of drugs and alcohol in our youth. 

Now that some drugs, like marijuana, are becoming acceptable in our society, it is imperative that school counselors be involved in drug prevention and intervention.  The purpose of this blog includes helping school counselors find accurate drug information and education, targeting Red Ribbon ideas specifically for high schools, and educating high school parents and staff who often seem clueless. 

Truly one way to learn more about drugs and drug use among teens is to talk to students who use or have used substances.  Typically, these students are the ones who can give you the most eye-opening information about drug life. Although, they are rather biased about their use, they can educate you on what you don’t know.   Ok, self disclosure alert…I am the relative of a teen who abuses substances.  I hate it and it saddens me; however, I have learned a lot to bring to my profession as a school counselor and to educate parents.  The signs were gradual and by the time we realized what was going on with our loved one it was too late. From my family’s mistakes, I wanted to take time to describe some signs of students when they are using.

Signs of Drug Use in Students

  • Change in friends-This is huge. Our relative (I will call him Nick) went from hanging around really positive, outgoing students to a group of friends that just wanted to hang out with each other on the roof of one kid’s house or the basement of another friend.  They stopped going places like school dances, football games, or social events and only wanted to go to certain friends’ homes for the whole weekend.
  • Change in appearance-Another big sign is a change in physical appearance.  Nick was known in the family as the clean cut and well dressed kid.  The kid took at least two baths a day and loved hygiene products.  Over time, we noticed that his physical appearance changed drastically.  Two baths a day went to no baths a day, the kid slept in the same day’s clothing, his teeth were not brushed causing gum disease, and new shoes were worn out after a couple of weeks. 
  • Change in behavior-The kid went from doing great in school and dreaming of going into medicine to talking about dropping out of school and living with the “basement kid”. Also, Nick talked about getting into fights and how he had gotten robbed of his money over the weekend like it was no big deal.
  • Change in physical well being-Although Nick has a chronic disease , he was relative healthy and managed his illness very well. However, one summer, he was in the hospital several times and once on his deathbed.  Unfortunately, a drug test was never given to him because doctors were convinced that his illness was the culprit to his hospitalization.  Honestly, we were too clueless to ask–not our sweet kid!!
  • Change in mood-Nick went from being a positive, fun loving, and kind soul to the “devil”.  I mean you didn’t know what you were going to face when you were around him!  In fact, I began to dread being around him and would intentionally stay away from the family to avoid facing this kid.
  • Change in personality-Some of the behaviors that we noticed were incessant lying (even if he was caught) and stealing.  I had a big jar of change and in one day he got into my room and was able to take all the silver coins out leaving me with only pennies.  My total loss was $300, but the real cost was the loss of my trust in him. In addition to his sneaky behavior was the fact that he had the nerve to bring drug dealers and buyers to house with my younger child there during the day.  Often young boys would walk from out of the woods up to my home and ask for Nick.  When I would ask about who they were he would just say some kid who wanted to hang.

Recognizing the Warning Signs

Now that you know something personal from my family, I hope that you will see that drug use can happen to any kids…even “good” kids.  So it is important that we, as educators, are aware of  early signs of drug use in our students.  Nick started using in 7th grade and then his use intensified in 9th grade.  The paradox is that many of his teachers knew he was using as he showed the signs in their classes, they saw the drug dealers he hung around with during the day, and he was often around the kids who were caught using.  They never said one word…

Though I wished someone had told on Nick, I am not blaming the staff for not saying anything to our family.   They may have not known what to say or maybe they thought we knew…I don’t know.  As school counselors, we work in gray areas and it is not so easy to always feel comfortable sharing what may or may not be real.  I know the first time I shared with a parent about their child’s drug use they were completely in denial.  However, overtime, the parents were able to see the signs for themselves.  In order to help parents, we must feel confident in our ability and knowledge to identify drug use among our students. 

Below are a list of resources that may help you gain that confidence!

Basic Drug Information 

Drug Abuse Resources for High School Staff

Do you know the difference?

How to Recognize Commonly Used Drugs
Drug Images – great visuals for identifying drugs and drug paraphernalia.
Commonly Abused Drug Chart

Drugs and their Effects on the Teen Body

Marijuana Today
Marijuana Edibles
Synthetic Drugs
Signs and Symptoms of Meth
Meth Abuse
Signs and Symptoms of Ecstasy
Signs and Symptoms of Cocaine
Signs and Symptoms of LSD
Hookah Use
Cough and Cold Medicine
Facts on DXM
Binge Drinking
Alcohol Poisoning
Binge Drinking Video

Drug Information for Students

NIDA Drug Education for Teens – Great site with a lot of science facts and information.
Drug Free World – Downloads, brochures, videos, and lots of information for student education.

Drug Statistics

Drug Trend Chart

Drug Slang Information for Adults

Rehabilitation Information

Treatment Finder

Narconon Drug Rehabilitation Program

Alcohol Treatment Information


Red Ribbon Week Ideas in the Classroom

Drug Fact IQ – Have students take the drug fact quiz to see what their IQ is about drugs.


Drug Free Workplace Lesson Plan – 25 minute classroom lesson on work place drug policies.  This is important for student to know as they graduate and leave high school.  

Pandora’s Box – 20 minute classroom lesson on the impact on drugs on the body.

Spin and Perform – 5 minute activity that can be used in the lunchroom to teach about the impact of alcohol on the body.

Take a Stand – 15 minute classroom activity and discussion on peer pressure to use drugs to be part of the group.

Drug Dope Show – Students pick a drug, write, and act out the impact of that drug on the family and student. 

Drug Teaching Guides – lesson plans on teaching how drugs affect the body.

Lesson and Quizzes on Drug Use – Individual drugs are highlighted with quizzes and interactive lessons.

Youth Pocket Guide for Emergencies

 Alcohol Screening and Brief Intervention Youth Pocket Guide – Great resource for students!

Lessons to be used by teachers: 


Drug Awareness Projects for Students – Can be used in health,  science, or elective courses.

Effects of Drugs on the Brain – Lesson that can be in the science class to show the effects of drugs on the brain.

Tendon Damage from Steroid Use – Anatomy lesson that can be used in science, health, and even by coaches.


China and New Imperialism – Study the impact of drugs on China in the early 1900’s.

Mexican Drug Trafficking – Lesson plans and handouts on the impact of drug trafficking on Mexico and the US.

Mexican Drug Wars and Social Media –  Lesson about the Mexican Drug Wars and how social media is being used to fight it.


The Cost of Drugs – Using statistics, students discover the real cost of drugs. Great for math classes!

Red Ribbon Resources

Red Ribbon Week

Drug Awareness Toolkits, Posters, Videos, and Resources

Drug Prevention for Teens – Drug education and prevention guidelines for teens, staff, and parents.


Faces of Meth Poster


Drug Fact Free Downloads – t-shirt iron-ons, stickers, & posters.

Above the Influence

Teacher and Parent Resources

Get Smart About Drugs – DEA Resource for parents and educators

Marijuana Talk Kit

Drug Abuse Information for Teachers

Coaches Playbook Against Drugs – Lessons that can be used by coaches to educate players on drugs and how it impacts their ability to play sports.

Talking to Your Child When You Suspect Drug Use – Great information  for parents on  how to talk to their teen.

Substance Abuse and Teens-Parent Education

Talk. They Hear You Toolkit for Parents

Talking to Your College Bound Student About Drinking

Marijuana: Facts Parents Need to Know

Hope you find some usefulness out this post as you prepare for Red Ribbon Week!  If you need some additional ideas, check out my posts on Red Ribbon Week from 2014 and 2013.

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