Name: Emily Merrill
From: Cottage Grove, Minnesota
Youth and the addiction epidemic
and the addiction epidemic
a young teenage girl, entering high school came with many pressures.
Drinking and smoking did not occur to pressure me at the start.
However, in my sophomore year of high school I took on more than I
could chew academically and personally. I began to drink for fun. At
first, it was on the occasion with friends, then it became something
I did to cope with academic pressure. Soon enough, It became a weekly
occurrence. My parents found out during the summer going into my
junior year, and it sparked countless fights. My parents didn’t
understand why I was drinking and began questioning their own
parenting skills. I have been in therapy since my freshman year, but
even the emotional support from my therapist wasn’t enough to
distract myself from the issues that I was facing. I used alcohol as
my scapegoat. After my parents found out that I was a consistent
drinker, I couldn’t go out and all the alcohol was removed from my
home. I was unsettled. I felt I had no outlet to release my stress.
So, I made the decision to attend therapy twice a week and join a
support group for teens struggling with addiction. The support group
opened my eyes to what I was really battling. I had a severe
depressive disorder. I had always had existing issues with
depression, but life truly became too difficult for me to deal with.
I realized I had began drinking for the overwhelming happiness it
brought to me. Without alcohol, I felt empty and insecure. Joining
this support group did reassure me that the issues I had faced were
also prevalent in other people’s lives. Hearing others speak about
their struggles with addiction put me in a much better place to
understand that alcohol was not what I needed to improve my life.
was September of 2018, I hadn’t drunk in two months, was still
attending my support group and my junior year of high school had just
started. I took my extra-curricular activities seriously, as well as
my grades. At first, the newness of everything helped me persevere
through all of my work, but exhaustion soon caught up with me. I
started feeling burdened and was craving a release. About a month
into school, my friend and I were backstage at our play rehearsal
discussing our lives. I had always known they had vaped, but that day
I asked to try it. I did, and I have never felt more elevated and far
away from my problems. From then on, my friend let me “hit” their
vape every day at rehearsal. I continued vaping for three months and
found myself fiending without nicotine. Eventually, I purchased my
own and became a heavy smoker for almost a year. My health
deteriorated, I stopped attending my support group and my mental
state became disheveled. The September of my senior year, I had
noticed difficulty with my breathing and general stamina. I knew that
it wasn’t worth my life, so I threw my vape away on September 23rd,
2019. Since then, I have bought new vapes, began drinking again, and
couldn’t stay consistently sober. In January of 2020 I was put on a
chemical dependency plan. I was faced with serious consequences if I
began drinking or smoking again, such as removal from my most valued
school activities and in-patient treatment. With help from my family
and friends, I felt that I had a solid platform to better myself.
Most importantly, I wanted to change.
young adults, we are faced with so much adversity and hardship.
Without proper guidance we turn to drugs and alcohol as our stress
relievers. The state of our youth has changed dramatically regarding
mental health, however, it is still not as well-received from our
older generation. As we continue to ignore the pressure of adulthood
looming over our teenagers, we do not set them up for success. We
must adequately provide support without stigma for individuals
suffering from mental issues or general anxiety. Ignoring these
issues is the gateway to unhealthy coping mechanisms. I was in a
privileged situation where I could afford therapy and had support
from both parents, which is not the same for others. By providing
free teen support groups, we are able to provide safe and anonymous
spaces for youth seeking help. If we are able to provide these spaces
for youth, issues with addiction are able to be addressed at a
younger age. Support from loved ones is also essential. We as an
American society have continued to ignore the effects of addiction
and its long term consequences due to stigma and inadequate services.
We must do better for our fellow citizens.
key effort to solving this crisis is well developed educational
programs. Satisfactory education for our youth allows new resources
for solving our addiction crisis before it worsens. Implementing a
curriculum about addiction would be far more beneficial for youth
rather than 1 semester of general health. In our current education
system now, what is typically referred to as “Drugs and Alcohol”
units are just that, units. Students and parents are not well
informed on such serious topics and their consequences and present
epidemic in our society. By teaching all students and families, we
further reduce the stigma that the drug epidemic only exists in
certain communities and affects only certain groups of individuals.
Inclusivity in newly constructed programs would teach such things.
Universal programs and prevention talks/meetings in our communities
are also essential. Identification, education, and execution of
effective policies are need and long overdue. Also, recognizing
problematic behaviors in youth and behaviors that indicated a
possible relapse are vital to know. Identifying risk factors in our
individual communities serves as a benefit for everyone. If society
continues to turn blind eyes to our addiction crisis, we ultimately
face more hardships together. Societal effects such as inflation,
healthcare strain, mortality rates, and incarceration rates continue
to grow. With the support from our current political leaders, older
generations, parents, and community members, we set our youth up for
success. Appropriate measures to prevent and treat severe addictions
will not only benefit our youth but will pave the way to a
progressive and well-rounded society.