By Ruby Balbuena
Drug use within the Summit Denali community is a topic that is not often directly addressed due to fear, but it sparks curiosity in others. However, drug use can lead to physical, mental and emotional health consequences. But there are many ways to fight against the aftermath in a positive way.
Throughout this article, the students who have been interviewed will be named anonymously using random letters in order to protect their identity.
During my one-on-one encounters with my interviewees, drugs users mostly seemed to be led by their eagerness to understand it. “I was just curious … I was a very sheltered kid, so I was like, ‘Oh OK, I’ll give it a shot. I never heard of this before,’” said Source I.
They also agreed that it was curiosity that attracted them to trying drugs. Some of the sources agree with the fact that no one really talks about drugs or the effects that it can have on one’s body. For others, it was peer pressure and the rebellion that they felt against their parents, but not as much as their curiosity for it.
Reasons for substance abuse
While on my search for candidates to interview, many within the lower grades declined my offer to interview them, but one freshman did accept. According to Source C, he was nine years old when he first tried weed. He discovered it under his brother’s bed and stole it from his room. He was very interested and curious enough to try it.
At such a young age, teens are exposed to things they don’t understand. Source C wasn’t the only one that was exposed to drugs at such a young age.
According to the research that I collected, six out of eight current users said curiosity and desire drove them to try these substances. Even though they might have heard about them once or twice, they were never made aware of the effects or consequences these substances would have.
On the other hand, there were two sources that said something else.
According to Source J , “Instead of seeing it destroy people’s lives I saw it like… pretty much change people’s perception of themselves. So that they can have a better time and relax. They were always happy when I saw them, especially when it came to alcohol.”
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism states that alcohol can be a tricky substance because it can cause one’s body to release endorphins (making us feel relaxed and euphoric), but it’s also classified as a depressant. Alcohol affects everyone’s bodies differently.
Furthermore, Source J grew up in an untroubled area of East Palo Alto. They weren’t forced into it, but more influenced in a way because they were surrounded by these substances. They saw how it made the people around them become happy or relaxed.
Source D had a different experience than the others. In seventh grade, Source D was first exposed to weed while hanging out with some eighth graders. Source D agrees with the fact that she did not want to look like an outcast for not participating, even though she was the youngest one within the group. “Exactly, I kind of wanted to be up there with them,” said Source D.
A Recovery Village website explains, “A review of the research shows that peers have a greater influence on adolescent substance abuse than do parents. Peers can encourage friends to use drugs and alcohol or tease them for being afraid to try them, which can lead to the initiation of drinking and drug use.”
Being at that age, source D just wanted to fit in with a group so that they feel like they belong somewhere. Looking more into the interviews each individual’s experience was different in its own way.
Three common categories for substance abuse
Over all of the information that was gathered, there were at least three common categories of why they started.
The first category is wanting relaxation. Relaxation is different for everyone. Two individuals I interviewed said they used drugs when they were feeling restless, stressed out, anxious or as a sleeping aid.
The second category is motivation and concentration. In other words, they use drugs as a medicine to make them more aware both mentally and physically. These drugs help provide motivation and concentration. “It helps you to instantly wake up. That’s a benefit; it doesn’t make you all tired or groggy in the morning and that’s about it,” Source N said.
The third category of wanting the peace of mind, where there is no negativity. The reason for this is the feeling of depression, sadness, or being nervous or anxious about something. According to Source D it’s “like I’m watching everything, but I’m not really part of it.” They explained that it’s like you know that you’re within the group, but you don’t actually feel included within that group.
A National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism article explains there are several reasons why adolescents take drugs. It can be due to wanting to fit in, to feel good, to feel better, to do better, or to just, experiment with it.
While there are those who have their reasons to start doing drugs, there are also those who decide to not do drugs as well. The commonality between source F and G is that they don’t do drugs because their belief that drugs are bad and it can kill a person slowly over time. Source G and F agree with this because they have seen the effects that the drugs can do to one’s body.
Source G said that he doesn’t do drugs because “that messes up your body and also one of my favorite singers died because of it. Also, I’ve heard bad stories; I know people who have messed up their life because of it.” Source G has seen what it can do to others in a negative way; it can even take away the life of your favorite person, be it a singer, friend or family member.
Source F had a similar situation. Her mother smoked, and it hurt her. “Like, if she doesn’t stop in the future, her health is at risk and I just don’t see any benefits of it,” she said. Knowing that the person that you love will one day die is just not worth it for her.
The effects of weed, vaping and adderall
Out of the sources that were interviewed they said that, when weed is being used they feel either emotionally happy or relaxed. When vaping is being used they feel calm, relaxed and motivated. Those who have used adderall (there weren’t many) said they felt “clear-headed” and “focused”. Emotionally it makes them feel content, but when it comes to the physical aspects, the weed will make them feel tired and sluggish.
If a person were to abuse weed in a high dose, that person would end up with short-term memory loss because it affects the development of the brain, as can be seen in the National Institute on Drug Abuse article.
As for vaping, one of the sources said that physically it made their lungs not work because they can feel this sharp pain, but besides that, most of them said that physically they felt addicted to it because of the nicotine.
Even though they all do this, they look out after one another. For instance, source I had a situation where “A lot of kids here thought that I was going down the deep end and they tried to get people to not give me anything,” said Source I.
Whether it is by telling them that they are getting hooked on it or by making people stop selling the stuff to them, they would do it.
By talking more to Source I, he explained it as it being more as a family because they accepted the things that they did while looking out for each other’s back.
Consequences and quitting
Source D smoked carts, until one day a bad experience with some carts happened.
“It was a bit of a toll on me mentally and emotionally for … a couple of days after. I felt like, I don’t know, it’s weird to explain. There are like some fake wax pen products especially, that can kind of mess you up.” After that experience Source D decided to quit smoking carts.
Source D’s parents didn’t know what she was doing, until when she took the courage to tell them because of how it affected her badly emotionally and mentally. Her parents were mad at her, at first, but because she broke down in front of them, they eased up a bit. After that, “they just kind of focused at that time to like focus on me and make sure that I get better and stuff like that,” she said. They and her friends supported her all the way through and through that she was able to quit over time. It wasn’t easy, but she was able to do it.
There are programs for drug and alcohol users who want to quit. Individuals can talk to specialists over the phone or do walk-ins.There are many resources that are being offered to teens within the Bay Area to help them quit.
Even if these individuals have no intention of quitting, it’s up to them to decide. A National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens article states, “There are many ways to help and support your friend, but in the end, it will need to be your friend’s decision.”
PHOTO CREDIT: Featured image – Ruby Balbuena; The three boxes in the center are vapes with flavor. On the right hand side it is a bottle filled with nicotine juice to refill the vape. Down below is a black vape that can be refilled.