Name: Haley Sessoms
From: Cave Spring, VA
During my years in high school I watched a majority of the student body become addicted to JUUL vaping devices. This nicotine issue was so bad kids would constantly gather in bathrooms that they had renamed “Juul Lounges” in order to secretly vape, even skipping classes sometimes. Which is understandable, though shocking, when one realizes the nicotine blend JUUL used had 10 times the amount other e-cigarettes had. Still, the source for this specific epidemic stems from the branding and advertising of addictive products to the vulnerable and underdeveloped brains of teenagers, hooking them in with social media acceptability and a fear of missing out. High Schoolers deal with depression and anxiety daily. For many of them it becomes easier to rely on vices than confronting their problems or talking about their feelings and emotions as the societal pressure to look and act natural can be a heavy burden on anyone. Unfortunately, nicotine addiction can lead to drug use, especially the very dangerous hardcore drugs that just so happen to be cheap and affordable to a high school student, like methamphetamine. With this addiction and coping mechanism beginning in high school, it can lead into one’s early adulthood, or even the rest of their lives.
Personally, I experienced watching my brother go through addiction in high school. He began using nicotine, via a JUUL, during his sophomore year. By his senior year, after changes with friends and his budding prospects of basketball ending with an injury, he sought out other forms of coping, eventually using methamphetamine by graduation. As a kid who had promise, and a supportive family that openly communicated, he became someone who lost himself and opportunities he had with basketball, to all of our shock and surprise. Much of the drug use seen in teenagers is kept secret and private, because even they themselves understand the societal repercussions of using, yet they do it anyway, as addiction takes over. For my brother, this reflected in him losing his job, skipping school, and isolating himself from reality. He graduated, but had nothing waiting for him afterwards. It took over six months before he even considered getting help. It’s still, and may always be, a daily battle to stay sober. The consequences of his sobriety in society is the pressure and labels that he will solely be associated with now, and throughout his adulthood.
To think this could all span from a smoking device that exploded within a market targeted to teenagers, recently selling for $38 billion, is frankly a disgusting display of morally corrupt capitalism. That much profit highlights the problem: companies care more about their bottom line than teenagers bottoming out. The people in charge need to shift their focus off of revenue and onto how their businesses affect the lives of kids. As a society, we should be having real discussions about mental health, coping mechanisms, and substance abuse. Instead of treating drug abuse with stereotypes and stigmas, especially the groups in society that want to hide away the statistics of use in younger people–the numbers are growing, now bleeding over into the amount of middle schoolers that use a JUUL. It’s become a terrifying train that’s not slowing down anytime soon. Unless we start fighting back. Open discussions and community collaborations will be the start of the recovery, to caring about each individual’s well being and mental stability. We as a whole need to realign our morals and understand that at this rate we are only feeding the drug epidemic instead of healing our youth. Money should never have a higher value than someone’s life. Especially when those lives are the future of our nation.