Images provided by The Recovery Village.
The use and abuse of drugs has never been strictly confined to the adult population. About 20% of high school students have been offered, sold, or given drugs on school property. Although overall use of drugs has been going down over the years, new innovations such as vape pens have brought back nicotine addiction to younger populations. Drugs have well-known negative effects on adolescents, such as impaired learning and memory issues. These effects have been taught to students through mandatory classes, such as Health at Washington High School, or through extra programs such as D.A.R.E (Drug Abuse Resistance Education). The question then becomes, why do some high schoolers start to use drugs, and what can be done to help them?
The traditional narrative has been that peer pressure is a significant factor for high school drug use. “I believe that peer pressure is usually one of the reasons people use drugs in the first place, but usually there are other reasons as well like depression, anxiety, and other issues in their life that would encourage them to use,” said one anonymous WHS student. Mariela Marin, Executive Director of the Community Counseling and Education Center in Santa Barbara, says “the most common ways we start using drugs are: as a way to connect with peers, to deal with stress, out of curiosity, as an escape, to have fun. What happens though is that we start out feeling confident that we know our limits, but the nature of drugs is that our body so quickly can become hooked.”
At that point, it is dangerous because your number one priority is that drug, not school, not work, not your friends, or anything else.
The use of drugs can severely affect students’ lives. “I think drug use can start out on a positive note. It can help you focus, give you motivation, and generally help you get through the day. It is when you become dependent on the drug that the issues arise,” said the student. “Your motivation is lost when you’re off the drug, you could struggle to focus in school, and you just become a different person. So you will use it constantly just to feel like yourself and you need it just to get through the day. At that point, it is dangerous because your number one priority is that drug, not school, not work, not your friends, or anything else. And I think especially developing that mentality as a teen may cause it to grow into something much worse as an adult.” Helping high schoolers deal with addiction is best done through compassion. Marin suggests that fellow students should try to be honest and understanding with their peers. “Name what you are noticing… Let friends know that you worry about their safety, and you care too much about them not to try to help them deal with whatever is going on… They need to know that they can turn to someone/something other than drugs, so we have to let them know that.” They also advise to offer resources, if the person feels uncomfortable being open, such as national hotlines or local systems. For schools, Marin recommends creating safe spaces for teens, such as forums to share experiences, without having to worry about “getting in trouble.” “I think schools can continue to train and prepare teachers, coaches, and counselors to know what to look for in terms of signs… and to arm them with a process for referring students to the appropriate resources,” they say.
Olga Vysotsky is a senior at Washington High School. This is her first year at the paper. She was born and raised in Fremont, California. As a journalist, she is interested in covering politics, world affairs, technology, and particularly how they intersect. She is the treasurer of WHS Robotics Club, where she often teaches coding. Outside of tech, she loves to paint, collect coins, and sometimes dabble in calligraphy. Her future plans are to study aerospace engineering at university.