Yesterday I gave my first ever talk to a school group about addiction. There were upwards of 100 14-15 year olds gathered together in a school hall, and on the way in one of them muttered “not another talk about drugs”.
There is little evidence that school information and education programmes change student behaviour when it comes to drugs and alcohol, although Patricia Conrod and her team have shown that personalised interventions with children and young people who may be particularly at risk can have some promising results.
Knowing this I set out to devise a presentation which at least might tell the audience some things it didn’t already know. There is not a lot of guidance available from official sources on how to tackle the subject of addiction in a school setting. I had a huge amount of information which had to be distilled down into 50 minutes, on addiction generally, on various drugs, on alcohol, on nicotine, and on behaviours like sex and the internet. Holding the attention of 100 young people in the last period before lunchtime is not easy. I wanted to inform without patronising, so I talked about how ecstasy can make you love everyone, cannabis can make you laugh, and alcohol can make you relaxed and uninhibited. I also talked about how ketamine can cause irreversible bladder damage, the links between cannabis and psychosis, and alcohol and aggression, and the problems with buying what you think is ecstasy when there is no guarantee that what you end up with is what you thought you were buying. I described what can happen when recreational use and experimentation tips into something more sinister, and becomes addiction, and the importance of looking after your friends if they were in trouble on a night out. The feedback from the teachers was good, but from the students? Hopefully it made some of them think.