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March 3, 2022
According to the Mayo Clinic, addiction is defined as “a disease that affects a person’s brain behavior and leads to an inability to control the use of a legal or illegal drug.” Also known as substance use disorder, addiction causes people to continue to use drugs despite knowing the consequences.
Due to the psychological toll that addiction takes on the brain, many punishments for drug usage are ineffective. The second anonymous source does not believe that police intervention is an impactful punishment for students.
“I feel like talking to the police is not going to help anything. They’re just going to stick their noses in everybody’s business and cause more trouble than it’s worth,” the source said. “If you really want to show them a lesson, call the cops. But I don’t think it is going to do anything besides ruin that kid’s day.”
The third anonymous source believes that suspension from school is just as counterproductive as police intervention.
“Suspension isn’t going to do anything. If anything, these kids go home and then they just get to do it more,” the source said. “If I were to get suspended, I’m not going to stop smoking.”
So we’re all experiencing this collective trauma, and we’re proceeding as if [we’re] not.”
— Christine Dougan, Student Family Advocate
Regardless of the punishment students receive, the first anonymous source believes that it is up to them to be responsible for their own actions and consequences.
“You can’t change people unless people want to change themselves,” they said.
Weber hopes that proper education will develop and be useful for students who are surrounded by drugs and have to make decisions for themselves.
“Ultimately, it’d be a choice that [adolescents] need to make for themselves,” Weber said. “Information is power, especially when it’s coming from the right, accurate sources.”
The majority of students at West have taken three courses that include drug usage in the curriculum: Personal Development 7 and 8 in junior high and Health in high school. The first anonymous source feels these classes have a minimal impact on student drug usage.
“I like the intentions that West High has, trying to show kids what drugs can do to [them]. But if a kid wants to smoke, they’re gonna smoke,” the source said. “It didn’t have an impact on me and I just shrugged it off.”
Brack previously worked at the Prelude Behavioral Services in Iowa City, where a central mission is to provide resources to people who are struggling with substance use. Brack specifically worked in education surrounding drugs and alcohol. During her time at Prelude, education around drug usage centered around abstinence, or avoiding drugs completely.
“As far as vaping or tobacco, there’s no safe amount for teens to use. So [safe use of those drugs] is not something that we talk about,” Brack said.
However, in regards to alcohol, Prelude has a program called Prime For Life, which prepares young adults to be safe when surrounded by alcohol.
“We taught a program which spoke about once you become 21, and it’s legal to drink, what does that look like?” Brack said. “The educational component is fantastic because there’s such a myth around when somebody says they are drinking responsibly. They have no clue what that means.”
Weber believes older generations have done an inadequate job developing substance use education. She thinks health classes should focus more on safety measures rather than scare tactics.
“Abstinence education about drugs has never worked,” Weber said. “[My generation does] a huge disservice to your generation by not providing you guys with all the information and tools in a very accurate, concise way that allows you to make better choices about your brains and your bodies.”
Weber believes there is a false notion that lack of information equals less curiosity about drug usage.
“I think a lot of how we teach adolescents about drugs is based on stigma and this belief that if we don’t provide you guys with education about how to do stuff safely, that you’re just not going to do it,” Weber said.
The second anonymous source also believes drug education should shift its focus to safety and accurate information about drugs.
“I think we could do more drug education, but instead of hammering it in to not do drugs, teach kids responsible ways to do them and what to do when they’re in a very real and scary situation,” they said.
According to the Alcohol and Drug Foundation, the techniques that provide the most impactful drug education are appropriately timed with accurate information, build skills like decision-making and are relevant to real life.
Weber believes drug education is vital in the high school years due to the impressionability during adolescent development.
“For adolescents, in particular, there’s this variable that does not exist for adults. Their brains are developing and are wonderful things that are still undergoing tons of changes that can be impacted by various substance exposure,” Weber said.
The teenage brain is more susceptible to substance abuse because the pleasure centers of the brain develop more rapidly than the parts of the brain involved in making decisions. According to the CDC, drug usage at these adolescent ages is likely to affect the growth of teens, occur simultaneously with other risky behaviors and lead to the development of adult health problems, such as heart disease and sleep disorders.
West High has compiled resources for students who are struggling with substance abuse. Brack recommends reaching out to a trusted adult in the building to get access to these resources. Once connected with an adult, students can receive quick access to medical attention, support groups, therapy or rehab programs.
When students approach Student Family Advocate Christine Dougan with substance abuse issues, the cause is often mental health issues. From these interactions, Dougan believes the core focus to mitigate substance use should be on student mental health and providing adequate resources in response to the pandemic.
“I think we are in a unique sort of global experience the last couple years … the world is literally and metaphorically on fire. Our school structure looks the exact same as it did pre-COVID: same amount of guidance counselors, same amount of SFAs, same amount of teachers and same school day,” Dougan said. “So we’re all experiencing this collective trauma, and we’re proceeding as if [we’re] not.”
Despite the lack of adjustments made in response to the pandemic, the third anonymous source believes it is vital to understand the significance of drug addiction.
“You’re going to be putting aside your own values because that’s what addiction does,” they said. “It grows on you. It grows on you like a tumor, and it’ll latch on to you.”