I’m not sure if you’ve heard the buzz surrounding HBO’s Euphoria, but I’m currently obsessed with it. As I watched the pilot episode, I found myself fighting a kind of internal battle where one part of me wished I could deny the existence of issues these high schoolers were grappling with every day. 

The other part of me was nodding emphatically in agreement, thinking back on instances I’ve witnessed and been a part of in my time as an educator. 

Euphoria’s teenage characters fling themselves headlong into a world of sex, rape, underage drinking, drug abuse, and mental health, and many scenes can be highly triggering for teens and adults alike. 

None of that, however, was the most disturbing to me. What was the most disturbing aspect of the world of Euphoria? 

It’s real. And it’s happening in American schools today with alarming frequency. 

My intention isn’t to alarm you, especially if you’re currently a parent or educator. Rather, my goal is to raise awareness and invite collaboration. 

My next series of posts will discuss several of the primary red flags raised in Euphoria and how educators can best help their students cope in a world where everyone is constantly connected and yet more isolated than ever.   

Drug Addiction in Schools — A Disturbing Reality 

Teen drug use is brought front and center through Euphoria’s narrator, Rue. As described by an article in The Guardian, Rue is “completely tethered to her own experiences as a young drug addict.” Rue’s history of mental illness is inextricably linked to her drug abuse and addiction, which ultimately lead to an overdose. 

While many of the scenes in Euphoria seem extreme, they’re based on creator Sam Levinson’s personal experiences as a teenager. And while some resources state that teen drug use has actually declined over the past several years, other statistics reveal it’s not something anyone should ignore. 

Here’s what we do know: 

  • Drug use among middle schoolers went up 61% between 2016 and 2020
  • 62% of 12th graders have abused alcohol 
  • Half of the nation’s teenagers have misused a drug at least once 
  • Opioid overdose deaths have increased 500% since 1999

In light of these facts, Rue’s character becomes increasingly more “real.” As educators, we need to be aware of what’s happening in our students’ lives and how we can best help them. 

Often, teachers are the first to notice when our young people are struggling, and part of our job is to recognize the signs and offer support instead of condemnation. Here are a few simple ways that we can help our students. 

How Can Educators Help Their Students? 

Empathy First 

Although many teenagers seem to believe that teachers exit the womb wearing an argyle sweater and solidly on their way to middle age, we were young once too. 

And while I’m not advocating that you reveal your own personal history with drugs and alcohol to your students, you can still come from a place of empathy. Just knowing that you care can positively impact a teen’s life, especially if they’re struggling with depression and anxiety. 

Recognize the Signs 

Teachers interact with students on a daily basis and are often the first to notice when something seems “off” with one of their kids. Knowing the signs of drug and alcohol abuse can help you identify at-risk behaviors and notify the appropriate school staff if necessary. 

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), teens may be struggling with substance abuse if they exhibit one or more of the following behaviors

  • Noticeable mood changes (irritability, temper flare-ups, defensiveness) 
  • Poor attendance, behavior issues, and sudden decline in grades
  • Trouble concentrating, bloodshot eyes, and slurred speech
  • Sudden change in friend groups

Have Honest Conversations 

If you’re concerned that one of your students may be struggling with drug abuse, it’s always wise to have an honest conversation with them first. They may not reveal everything to you, but they will appreciate that you notice and care about them. Make sure you’re well-informed about available resources and people they can talk to. 

KNOW THYSELF BUNDLE #3 is a great way to have students open up about their struggles with identity and overcoming obstacles.

Parting Thoughts 

Although Rue is a fictional character and the world she lives in intentionally pushes the envelope, there is a startling truth in the midst of her experiences. 

For me, she has spurred an invitation to my fellow educators to have these hard conversations — with ourselves and with each other. I look forward to your thoughts and stay tuned for my next post. 

Linda Jennifer

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