Adolescent Heroin Abuse: Implications for the Consulting Professional School Counselor

By Lambie, Glenn W.; Davis, Keith M. | Journal of Professional Counseling, Practice, Theory, & Research, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

Adolescent Heroin Abuse: Implications for the Consulting Professional School Counselor


Lambie, Glenn W., Davis, Keith M., Journal of Professional Counseling, Practice, Theory, & Research


Heroin use among adolescents has increased significantly over the past decade. This increase poses a considerable danger for adolescents potentially resulting in serious psychological, social, educational, and legal consequences. Professional school counselors are in a position to support and intervene through school-based consultation services. This article: (a) introduces the recent trends in adolescent heroin abuse, (b) reviews the potential consequences and warning signs of heroin abuse, and (c) presents school-based consultation as an intervention strategy for supporting these students.

Heroin use poses a significant danger for adolescents possibly resulting in serious psychological, social, educational, and legal consequences. A substantial proportion of adolescent heroin abusers end-up incarcerated or deceased (Hopfer, Khuri, Crowley, &C Hooks, 2002). In recent years, adolescent heroin use has seen a statistically significant increase (Johnson, O'Malley, & Bachman, 2002; National Institute of Drug Abuse [NIDA], 2002). Between 1990 and 2000, emergency room reports of heroin abuse rose from 182 to 1,067 among 12-17 years olds, while among 18-25 year olds the rate increased from 4,654 to 18,400 (Drug Abuse Warning Network [DAWN], 2002). Heroin admissions to substance abuse treatment centers increased by 44 percent between 1992 and 2000 (Drug and Alcohol Services Information System [DASIS], 2003). Also, stereotypical characteristics of heroin abusers (i.e., urban, unemployed, and disadvantaged individuals) have changed with increases of abuse being found at upper and middle socioeconomic levels and in rural and suburban areas; therefore, heroin abuse is no longer limited to low socioeconomic urban setting (Epstein & Gfroerer, 2003). Further, the age of first use has declined with increasing numbers of middle and high school students using (Fields, 2004). It is important to note that the statistics relating to adolescent heroin abuse are likely very conservative because survey respondents may minimize their heroin use do to the stigma associated with its abuse. Finally, heroin abuse statistics tend to lack data relating to adolescents who are not enrolled in school (i.e., students who have dropped out of school), which likely contributes to the underestimation of its use.

For the purposes of this article, the terms heroin abuse will be used to encompass heroin use, abuse, dependence, and addiction. The authors believe that adolescent heroin use may be classified as abuse because of the potential negative consequences (social, legal, educational, psychological, and/or physical impairment) associated with heroin use among young people.

Statistically, heroin abuse among adolescents is not nearly as prevalent as alcohol abuse. While 52 percent of adolescents 12 years and older admitted to having used alcohol in the previous 30 days (Lambie & Smith, 2004), only one percent of all high school students admit to having used heroin (Johnson et al., 2002). Nevertheless, adolescent heroin abuse remains a significant issue for schools. Also noteworthy is the addictive quality of heroin, where approximately half of repeated abusers will become addicted (Doweiko, 2005). The overall prevalence of adolescent heroin abuse may be low (approximately one percent); however, there may be a much higher percentage within certain populations and areas of the country (Johnston et al., 2002).

Most persons who abuse heroin show signs of dysfunctionality at an earlier age (Ray & Ksir, 2004). Given the frequent and consistent contact between school personnel and adolescents in the school, these school-based professionals are in an excellent position to serve as primary agents in the identification and intervention of adolescent heroin abuse. One school-based professional in particular that can be of help is the professional school counselor (PSC). PSCs are certified/licensed educators who are specialists in human behavior, communication, and relational issues, having received specialized graduate level training in child and adolescent development, therapeutic interventions, and crisis intervention (i. …

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