In the cloud of vaping fear and with opioids being prescribed like cough drops, the dangers of addiction are at the forefront of many people’s minds. Recent vaping statistics have shocked adults and instilled a new fear among parents: your kids may be skipping class and spending all their money to get a head rush. Our focus has shifted towards the physical consequences of addiction rather than the myriad of other issues brought about by teen drug use. Most people accept that high school students use drugs and only find reason to worry when use turns into dependency, but they forget how casual drug use changes social relationships and dynamics. More than the addiction we so fear, this innocuous effect of teen drug use warps social standards and threatens social creativity.
When you think of what drug abuse looks like for a high school student, what do you picture? A kid missing deadlines to get blackout drunk? Someone who needs nicotine to make it through each hour of the day? A student who can’t wait to get out for lunch to get high across the street? You probably don’t picture a twice-a-week smoker, an only-on-the-weekend partier, or an “I’ll take it if it’s there” nicotine user. It’s hard to call this drug abuse because that means calling most teenagers “abusers.” We take our stereotypes around abuse as license to use regularly, and as long as we don’t feel dependent or that the substance is disrupting a large portion of our lives, we consider ourselves in the clear.
A student may accept that they need [drugs] to take a test or to let loose and dance. They get used to the blackouts, the throwing up, the sleeplessness, and the lying to parents.
In ninth grade many of us had, or will have, a visit paid to our class by the beloved “Weed Guy,” who will impart the idea that beyond the science of dulled memory and the dampening of your ability to feel happiness, the true harm of regular pot smoking is that it endangers one of your most valuable assets: your creativity.
When was the last time you had to come up with a game to play or art to make or find a place to go run around without the prospect of getting high or drunk? If you can’t remember a time like that since middle school then you’re becoming reliant on a drug to enjoy life. Too often we do not have to ask, “What am I doing tonight?” on a Friday because the answer is obvious: find a bottle, roll up, or get pills and see what happens, whatever it is will probably feel nice. That’s the thing about drugs: it’s not as if people pick them up for no reason. Drugs are, like many other pleasurable activities, an escape, a release, and a very easy hit of dopamine. But good fun can come at the cost of figuring out what you really enjoy doing and exploring what gets you going without putting something extra into your system. If you’re spending much of your free time living through a drug, you’re enjoying the experience of that drug, but are you enjoying everything else? This is where casual teen drug use can veer towards abuse.
It’s not that every time you take a substance you hack away a piece of your creativity, or that drugs are stealing your ability to do other things. But when drug use becomes habitual, you subconsciously lose some agency over your life. A student may accept that they need it to take a test or to let loose and dance. They get used to the blackouts, the throwing up, the sleeplessness, and the lying to parents. Most don’t call this addiction or abuse. Usually, it’s called “teens being teens.” Whether or not you are dependent on a substance to the point of addiction, if a drug becomes method of choice for having fun, you’re well on your way to becoming an abuser.
The bright side about being a teen is that although people will tell you what and who you are, you’re still very flexible. Neither you nor I have to be defined by the choices we’ve made thus far or how we are expected to spend our time in years to come. If you feel yourself slipping into a pattern of using because you don’t know what else to do, just know that at this age you are still able to unlearn bad habits such as excessive drug use, just as you are able to pick up healthy ones.