Under Pressure

Editor’s note: The names of students interviewed for this article have been changed.

Drug and alcohol addictions have always been an issue among teenagers, and this is true for nearly every high school in the United States. This school is no exception.

There are countless reasons why teenagers start abusing substances. Some are affected by anxiety or depression and are searching for happiness. Others, such as Tom, starting using drugs to try and fit in.

“I’ve been dealing with peer pressure all throughout high school,” Tom said. “There’s a lot of examples that I could point to, but the biggest one for me would be usage of illegal drugs, specifically marijuana, during my freshman year. I was new, and I wanted to have friends, so I used it a lot.”

Many teenagers view marijuana as a harmless drug, but this is not true. The Behavioral Health Services of Arkansas (BHSA) said, “Marijuana can reduce a person’s motivation and increase anxiety, fear, or panic. The active ingredient THC impairs the brain’s ability to store new information to learn.”

It takes more than eight days to completely erase the effects of marijuana, and if it’s used more than twice a week, the user will constantly be under the influence.

Contrary to popular belief, marijuana is addictive and can ultimately lead to unintended consequences. “Marijuana affected me negatively a lot,” Tom said. “It hurt me at home with my family and led me down a bad path.

“There isn’t too much peer pressure happening at parties,” Tom said, “because most of the people there have already tried drugs or alcohol. They think that they might as well keep going since they’ve already done it once.” Tom said that this also leads people to experiment and try new and dangerous drugs.

Drugs such as cocaine, heroin, and ecstasy are becoming increasingly popular. These drugs are highly addictive and highly dangerous. Because there aren’t any regulations on these drugs, getting a bad batch or using them wrong the first time can kill someone instantly.

Prescription pain killers are also commonly used because they’re easy for teens to obtain. These are addictive and often lead to overdoses. Many people who abuse prescription pain killers will move to more dangerous drugs eventually.

“Every teenager wants to break the rules and try new things, so drinking alcohol is a huge problem in high school,” Tom said. “People also do stupid things while under the influence all the time, like fighting or drunk driving.”

The BHSA said, “5.1 million young people reported binge drinking at least once in the last month, and 11 percent of all alcohol consumed in the United States is consumed by people age 11-20.” The effects of binge drinking are hard-hitting and long-lasting.

The BHSA said, “The younger a person starts using alcohol, the more likely an addiction will develop. The hippocampus, the brain region critical for forming new memories, is particularly affected by alcohol use during adolescence.”

Teenagers who drank on a regular basis scored drastically lower than non-drinkers on vocabulary, general information, and memory tests. These mental effects can last a person’s entire life.

Drugs and alcohol can affect teens who don’t even abuse them. Bill said, “I lost some friends because of drugs.”

Bill said that some of his friends started drinking and using illegal drugs, but he wanted no part in it. “I just told them no,” Bill said. “They just stopped hanging out with me because I wasn’t doing the same things as them. The people who pressure you the most to do things you don’t want to do aren’t really your friends.”

Teens use drugs and alcohol for many reasons besides peer pressure. School nurse Ms. Christie Mabrey said, “I spent a lot of time working in rehab centers as a nurse, and seeing the affects that drugs can have on people really stuck with me.” Ms. Mabrey also raised three sons, so she has insight into the minds of teens.

“Peer pressure definitely plays a big part in why teens abuse drugs,” Ms. Mabrey said, “but there’s a lot more to it. Our society puts a lot of focus onto physical health, but it doesn’t really talk about mental health.

Ms. Mabrey said that many drug abusers are trying to treat anxiety or depression. “Everybody has some emotional pain, and some people choose to treat that pain with drugs. Those are the people that become addicts,” Ms. Mabrey said.

Ms. Mabrey said that drugs and alcohol create a temporary euphoria, but causes users to delve deeper into anxiety or depression after the high is over.

“A big reason why teens succumb to peer pressure so often is because they want to have friends,” Ms. Mabrey said. “Loneliness can be absolutely debilitating.”

Loneliness causes higher levels of stress and sleep deprivation. Lonely people are also much more likely to commit suicide and to develop addiction to drugs or alcohol according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institute of Health. There are many ways to avoid peer pressure. George said, “People try to get me to do stuff all the time at parties. I’m not interested in drugs or any of that. Peer pressure just doesn’t work on me.

“I have an interest in what’s best for me, and I think that’s really important,” George said, “I don’t try to make anybody else happy by doing what they ask me to do.

“I think a lot of people succumb to peer pressure because they think that people won’t be friends with them if they say no to drugs,” George said, “but something that’s really important to realize is that your true friends never ask you to do something that you’re uncomfortable with.”

George said that your real friends will be the ones who try to make you a better person, not the ones who ask you to drink. “Peer pressure will go away once you find your real friends,” George said. “Instead of them pressuring you, they’ll try and get you to do the right thing. The people that are asking you to drink aren’t your friends. They don’t have your best interest at heart.”

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