When just saying “no” isn’t enough
There are just as many different highs as there are people seeking them. We’re familiar with the classics — weed, alcohol, nicotine — but there’s much more than meets the eye if you’re creative enough.
Household items (if you do exactly what the label asks you not to do) may satisfy these creative desires. However, there are drugs — not the ones under your sink — that can make for a very therapeutic experience.
There are studies of certain hallucinogens helping with cases of severe anxiety and depression “In 2016, two studies involving a total of 80 patients found that a single dose of psilocybin could considerably reduce the depression and anxiety felt by patients who had terminal or advanced cancer, compared with those who took a placebo” (LiveScience). Psilocybin is the chemical in magic mushrooms, which, because of studies like these, have become a tool for many medicinal purposes. It was recently decriminalized in Denver.
This does not mean all drugs aren’t as bad as we say, because there are definitely substances that are demonized based on solid evidence. But what makes us curious about these substances in the first place?
According to the Center for Addiction, “9 out of 10 people who abuse or are addicted to nicotine, alcohol or other drugs began using these substances before they were 18.” In most cases, this curiosity starts at a young age. Kids may be making choices when they don’t know the consequences. They may turn to substances that aren’t even meant to result in psychoactive effects, but there are too many for anyone not to notice — you can find many of them in your own home.
For example, there are reports of people ingesting nutmeg, and getting a hallucinogenic high that can last up to two days. Also, a person can find ethanol in cooking ingredients such as vanilla extract and food coloring. Products like whipped cream cans, spray paint, paint thinner, air fresheners, butane, and others provide a high that resembles that of an inhalant.
Even in their efforts to combat potentially unhealthy habits, organizations like Drug Abuse Resistance Education, commonly known as D.A.R.E., oversimplify this minefield of drug possibility.
Adam, who preferred Buzzsaw not disclose his last name, is no stranger to drug use and to this day resents the anti-drug group D.A.R.E for making drug addiction seem so black and white.
“I mean of course I knew what getting drunk was, but . . . I didn’t know what getting high was,” Adam said. “It was probably the people I was hanging out with because a lot of those influences rubbed off on me.”
According to the US National Library of Medicine, “Adolescents have a moderate to strong influence impact on their peers’ risk behavior.” Curiosity may stem from a popularity factor, or a sense of social influence, that young people tend to be sensitive to. When a peer starts doing something that others may find cool, they are likely to take part in such activities.
Clinical Psychologist Dr. Ellen Cooper, who maintains her own practice, has dealt with a plethora of addictive adolescent behaviors throughout her career.
“It can be a consequence of early sexual exposure, violence in the household, or exposure to things that are high risk in general,” Dr. Cooper said.
Reasons for drug use may stem from things that are out of an individual’s control, and drug addiction is often a coping mechanism. When a child is in a household saturated with substance abuse, they may become more susceptible to abusing drugs upon being exposed to them.
Cooper explained that the foundation of preventing drug addiction is accurately instructing others how to notice warning signs, and intervening is involving yourself into the scenario when necessary. Treating drug addiction is out of the bystander’s hands and the responsibility of the authorities.
Ryan, who also preferred Buzzsaw not use his last name, also has a history of drug use and condemns D.A.R.E.
“D.A.R.E — they would tell you all this shit about certain drugs — but then you’d go out, see that drug and see the shit that it does to people,” Ryan said. “You’d be like ‘oh that’s completely different like that’s not what they told me.’”
On the organization’s website, the organization said that they want children to “understand the relationship between ‘Alcohol and other Drug use’ and being a good community member . . . understand that high school students who choose not to drink or do drugs are in the majority.”
D.A.R.E. deems drug users as inferior to non-users. They show a reckless disregard for the mental health side of drug addiction. D.A.R.E. teaches kids how to avoid drugs, but at the same time, they implement pressures on those who may already have a problem. This methodology only deepens the divide between between those who can “just say no” and those who cannot.
“I feel like what we should stop doing is lying to kids,” Ryan said. “We hype it up, and make it worse than it is to scare people, instead of just telling them the truth of what it is, and actually informing people for them to make their own decisions.”
When organizations like D.A.R.E. treat these substances with such a black-and-white outlook, it makes for a conversation that is fueled by biases on both sides. People who make “bad” decisions are not “bad” people — they are people who made a decision, have to deal with the consequences, and learn from them.
D.A.R.E. doesn’t provide sufficient prevention strategies to avoid scenarios that involve drugs. Just “saying no” fails to provide the concrete knowledge needed by those who struggle to avoid the already influential pressures in their respective environments. D.A.R.E. does not represent those who need this education the most, and are not mindful of the ripple effects their education perpetrates.
Matt Festa is a sophomore Writing for Film, TV and Emerging Media major who wore a D.A.R.E. t-shirt in middle school. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.