High Times at Brookline High



Natalie Jew, Regulars Editor

The popularity of recreational substance use by teenagers floods the media and student social life. Though there has been a reported decrease of use at the high school, it still affects a wide range of students.

In the United States, by the time students are seniors, 70 percent will have tried alcohol, half will have taken an illegal drug, 40 percent will have smoked a cigarette and 20 percent will have used a pharmaceutical substance without a prescription, according to the National Institution on Drug Abuse.

A 2017 Brookline High School Student Health Survey shows that 36 percent of students have used alcohol, 27 percent have tried marijuana, 17 percent reported to having tried tobacco, which includes smoking tobacco and e-cigarettes, and close to 1 percent have used other illegal drugs.

The effects of recreational substances, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, can cause hazy decision making, aggression and problems later in life; adolescents who use substances may suffer on a large scale.

Students at the high school, as well as adults in the community, have seen this recreational use of substances affect adolescents in their social circles, at home and in school.


The social aspect

For some students, recreational drugs are a part of the social life at school. Close to 55 percent of teens who use substances said they started because of pressure from their friends, according to The Foundation for a Drug-Free World.

One student, “Sean,” a junior, said substances are part of the social scene at the high school.

“Drugs, it’s a way of socializing, of having friends. If you get in that friend group, drugs is what you do – some people play video games, some people play football, stoners go smoke,” Sean said.I can go up to people who I don’t know and be like ‘you want to go smoke?’ It’s actually such a genuine culture of just people going to smoke other people up.”

Another student, “Alyssa,” a senior, said that a different type of friendship exists between her and the people she uses substance with.

“{It’s} the level of intimacy. To a certain extent, drugs do make you vulnerable, so when you experience that with someone you see them in a different way. For other people who haven’t seen me like that, that’s just a different side of me,” Alyssa said.

Sean said a different type of social pressures come with substance use.

“There are social pressures, but not in the way that it’s like ‘kid, do drugs’ or ‘you have to do drugs.’ No one does that. If you don’t do drugs – more drugs for them. Drugs are expensive and no one’s just giving them out,” Sean said. “The social pressure comes from the fact that when you don’t do them, you get excluded from the culture.”

In a 2006 study of teenage drug dealing, the Journal of Adolescent Health found that 12 percent of students in the United States, sold drugs and nearly 60 percent of those students reported using a substance on a weekly basis. Sean said there is a distinct dynamic between him and his dealers.

“I have a really weird image of it in my head, essentially it goes along the ways of – I don’t ever want to buy from a dealer who’s much older than me because that’s so irresponsible for an adult to sell to a kid,” Sean said. “But, if a kid sells to a kid that’s cool. If it’s self contained within kids. Certain students are mature enough that they can handle it, and if you can’t or you don’t want to, that’s also totally cool.”

A student, “Sam,” a junior, said he has difficulties connecting with people who do not use substances.

“I have a hard time associating with normies,” Sam said. “Instantly, your common ground is always weed and when you don’t have that, you have to think outside the box a little.”


School and psychostimulants

The ways in which students use illegal substances in school can vary. A survey conducted by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids said, 56 percent of college students reported they were able to easily get drugs from friends and acquaintances at their school.

Sean said there is a separation between when he does his school work and times he uses substances.

“It’s an either or situation for me – I can’t do both. At the beginning of the year I was leaning towards drugs, and this half of the year I’ve been leaning towards school and making sure I get myself into college,” Sean said. “For me, I’m not good at balancing it; I just pick my times. Once the second AP test is done, I have a bunch of plans just to completely get out of my mind, because in my mind, I deserve to get completely out of my head.”

In recent years, there has been an increase use of Adderall and Ritalin, according to The New Yorker, which are stimulants given to people with attention deficit disorder (without a prescription) to stay awake or concentrate on studying. For a student, “John,” a junior, who does not have a prescription for Adderall or Ritalin, these substances allow him to keep up with the stresses of school.

“Different drugs do different things. Ritalin and Adderall definitely helped me with school work. Sometimes I just have so much {to do} that I can’t. I take on more than I should. There’s so much work backed up and there’s no other way to do it but pull all nighters. {Then}, I come to school and pop another one just so I can stay awake. I used weekends and breaks to stop it. It was kind of a cycle,” John said.

Social Worker Mary Minott said that though these types of substances are usually prescription medication, taking them can be dangerous without the presence of a doctor.

“For people with ADHD, they take their medication in the morning and it’s an understandable dose, monitored by a doctor,” Minott said. “But, kids who are using it {without a prescription}, they’re not taking it first thing in the morning, they’re taking it at night – and it’s a stimulant: it can create anxiety attacks, panic attacks. You’re taking a pill which you can’t dose yourself; you don’t know how much you’re going to get in your system until you’ve actually swallowed it and it’s taken its effect.”



Home life

Students are often able to hide their drug use from their parents, however according to Minott, many parents have a sense that their children are using. According to the National Library of Medicine’s National Institute of Health, 30.4 percent of parents of students who use substances reported knowledge of their child’s alcohol problems.

“Sometimes parents have a good idea but don’t know the full extent. I don’t share that with parents, but most parents are pleased that the student has a place to come and talk to a confidential adult who’s got their best interest at heart,” Minott said. “Sometimes kids don’t want to talk to their parents about some of those things. They’re afraid their parents are going to be critical and they’re going to get in trouble, and it’s surprising how often {parents} aren’t all those things. Parents or guardians are going to be there for you for the long haul.”

John is one such student who keeps his substance use from his parents.

“They don’t know. If they ever find out, I’m dead. That’s pretty much it, end of the story,” John said. “I want to consider myself being smart about it – I’m never high in front of them, usually when I go out and smoke I wait to sober up before I go home.”

Alyssa is more open with her parents about her substance use.

“My parents, they’re more laid back in certain areas of my life. They trust me to do what I want but to be smart with it,” Alyssa said. “They know {weed} helps me with sleep and that I don’t do it stupidly. They’ve also smoked with me.”

In Sean’s house, one parent knows and the other does not.

“Home life’s funny because my mom knows, my dad doesn’t. What happens is I’ll be really open with my mom. The first time, I told her. I came home and I was like ‘I’m high’ and she was like ‘cool,’” Sean said. “Then my dad one time found my grinder and he had a whole family meeting with me, my mom and him. Me and my mom just looked at each other.”

Alumna of the high school, Marcia Fowler is the CEO of Bournewood Health Systems, a psychiatric hospital in Brookline.

“The advice I give to family members and friends is that if you see somebody you think is struggling, that has a problem, it’s okay to say something. You’re not telling them they’re a bad person,” Fowler said. “It will stick with them. They’ll know that someone cares about them too, even if they’re not caring about themselves at the moment.”


The perspectives

For Sean, there is a difference between how substances are perceived and how he feels they affect him.

“It’s weird from an outside perspective looking in, because it’s so stigmatized. I usually take what I know from people, and in general if you do a drug once it’s not going to f*** you up,” Sean said. “I don’t think everybody should try drugs – it’s for the people who want to. It’s like skydiving, I’m not going to throw everyone off a plane but if you want to do it, you should be free to do it.”

Minott looks at the issue on a personal level for each student.

“The way we’ve been talking about substance use – we’re not just talking about laws that kids should get busted, we’re talking about the whole sort of how you’re taking care of yourself,” Minott said. “Looking at it from the lens of a mental health issue, so that people who are struggling with substances understand that it’s not because they’re bad people, and they’re breaking the law, but really because they’re struggling emotionally and need support and help and treatment.”

Minott has seen the full spectrum.

“I see students with a whole range of issues,” she said. “I’ve been doing this work for a long time, and with students, it makes me really sad to see how much early heavy use of substances can derail a kid’s life. I’ve worked with adults who have had long histories of substance use, and maybe for some of them it was too late. The more you can intervene in adolescents, the more hopeful it is for change – to work with people in this formative stage of their life where they have such potential.”

Fowler said that oftentimes students use substances to put off other issues in their life.

“A lot of times teens will start self-medicating. A lot of times substances can help in the short term: you get this sort of very brief euphoria, you feel more relaxed,” Fowler said. “{But} the experimentation can often lead for people who have underlying vulnerabilities to then start abusing drugs and alcohol.”

To Alyssa, there is a middle ground between how people think of drugs and the uncertainties of using a substance.

“‘Drugs’ is an umbrella term for a lot of different things. Some of it is stigma but there are some you’re going to get damage from, there are effects on the developing brain. I definitely know people who smoke who let that control them,” Alyssa said. “If I thought it would significantly make my life worse, I would stop, but at this point, I’m not concerned about my substance use. I see it more as a pastime.”

Clinical Psychologist and Coordinator of the Child Team at the Brookline Community Health Center Dr. Joshua L. Eagle said it is important to look at the cause of substance use.

“When working with a young person adversely affected by substance use, it’s most helpful to clearly understand what led the person to substances in the first place. Like any other human behavior, substance use doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” Eagle said. “There’s usually a reason or reasons why people use them. It’s important to understand the particular reasons why people chose to use substances before helping them figure out strategies to manage without them.

Eagle said that early use of substances often leads to a substance use disorder.

“There is a wide range of behaviors between the poles of experimenting with a substance and becoming addicted. No one ever starts out experimenting with substances with the intent of wanting to become addicted,” Eagle said. “As someone who cares about young people and their futures, I worry about the impact of experimentation, even episodically, on a still-developing brain. Any time you introduce a substance, even casually, you have the possibility of tampering with the brain’s normal developmental trajectory.”

For Sean, the key is knowing when to stop.

“Everybody should come up with their own limits. {For students}, you just can’t have open season. But for adults, I think all drugs should be decriminalized. It should be illegal to sell drugs, but it shouldn’t be illegal to do drugs,” Sean said. “My body. I’m going to be hurting myself, let me f*** my life up, that’s not your job.”

When he first started taking substances, Sam believed they supported him in facets of his life.

“I used to take substances because I had a void in my life that I had to fill but – I still do, I just don’t fill it anymore,” Sam said. “I used to get high every single night because I would get sad, and I said it would help me sleep, but it just doesn’t and it f***s with your receptors, so now I only get high during the weekend just to do it. I don’t want to get high every night. It becomes less enjoyable the more and more you do it.”

Minott does not believe the likelihood developing problems from substance use is worth the risk.

“The teenage years, your brain chemistry is just still growing and changing and evolving so much that it’s fragile. It’s hard to predict ahead of time who is going to go from experimentation to overusing and getting into problems around it. Because the problems can be life changing, why risk it?” Minott said. “You don’t know if you’re going to be the kid who is more susceptible to becoming someone whose substances derailed your potential. High school’s like this big fork in the life; what you make of it is an all up to you kind of thing.”


All students’ names have been changed due to the sensitive nature of this article