What peer pressure and substance use is really doing to you

November 7, 2019

Run! Run! You’re going to be late for school! You have to swipe before 8:59 hits or there goes your lunch out for the day and another lecture from your parents. You got it, you’re almost there, just one more block, and you’ve made it! You see that grayish beige building… so close yet so far. 

As your white Converse hit the pavement, you spot that prisoner like black fence and sigh in relief as you see that your phone reads 8:56. Slowing down a little, you sense an all too familiar smell. 

The sinister scent of marijuana creeps up your nostrils and leaves an unsettling sentiment. Your head jolts and faces across the street; where you spot the origin of the now faint smell. You squint and realize “wow those kids go to my school.”

Teens and drugs. Two things that have gone together in an unfortunate way since, well, as long as we can remember. Unfortunately in our world today, adolescents are getting into drugs  at faster rates and at younger and younger ages, stemming from not only the social situations teens end up in but also the social situations like media (and social media) that influence teens.

iSchool junior, Cassandra Salazar…  “Of course I’m curious and i’m like “oh what if I do try it” just like for fun and see what it’s like but I know that it’s not going to benefit me in any way other than just knowing what it feels like.” 

A lot of people tend to wonder why teens make decisions they decide to make. This conception in our minds normally takes place when we look at teens and see their decision making as “bad.” 

Besides the fact that the teen brain is still developing and won’t be fully developed until we are well into our twenties, maybe even thirties due to brain development happening from front to back (the function for decision making is in the frontal lobe of the brain), there are outside struggles for teens when it comes to living their everyday lives. 

As stated by the Daily Mail,  “The key changes in the brain that occur from adolescence into one’s 20s and 30s is a thinning of the grey matter (See figure 1) , and a thickening of white matter… The increase in white matter represents a growth in connectivity between different brain regions. The thinning of the grey matter represents what scientists call ‘pruning’ – a specialization in the set-up of the grey matter which makes it more efficient. The part of the brain that keeps growing is the prefrontal cortex… but because the brain keeps on changing, even saying that change has largely leveled off by 30.”

Adolescents of this generation are especially in danger due to the technological advancements that have led to the sad reality of negative online influences. But what about the influences that are still in person? What about that face to face contact that we still do have?  These outside influences are known as peer pressure. 

Peer pressure can come in many forms. Adolescents are just as likely to be pressured into doing something positive, as doing something negative. According to The Very Well Mind Study, peer pressure causes kids to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do. This usually has to do with teens trying to fit in or being noticed in some cases. This often leads to the exploration of the dangerous world of drugs and alcohol. Teens find their place in drugs and alcohol from social situations they are generally put in or put themselves in. 

One Manhattan teen who wishes to remain anonymous says, “I know a lot of friends that say they don’t do [drugs and alcohol] but they have friends who do it and most of the time if you’re constantly hanging out with people who do it than you are bound to pick up on that and I actually have a lot of friends who started doing drugs because they know of other people that have done it.”

Peer pressure can also come from family settings. These types of social situations are normally what parents call “for the greater good” of their children. Studies prove that parents who forbid their children to hang out with what they see as the wrong group of kids, can be even more harmful to the child. Parents trying to prevent their kids from falling into the wrong crowd are likely to lead their children into even more socially stressful situations but are too afraid or prideful even to talk to their parents about experiences they might have gone through. 

Low self-esteem and poor judgement within teens are consistent risk factors when it comes to drugs and alcohol.  Adolescents are much more susceptible to social pressure from trusted and companioned sources like friends, peers, colleagues, etc. because there is much more of a determinant of drug use from them than parental advice or community outreach can have much of an influence in the context of an abstinence based lifestyle, as referenced in The Effects of Social Contact on Drug Use: Behavioral Mechanisms Controlling Drug Intake. 

Cassandra Salazar then states, “I feel like social media does have an impact on teens because sometimes people post videos of them smoking or doing drugs and I feel like it might influence or pressure other people to do it too because they think it’s cool.”

Social support and self-esteem are the leading risk factors of teenagers and substance abuse right now. The development of teenage drug abuse is rooted from low self-esteem and poor social resources. Most teens lack the social resilience it takes to be unbothered by the social standards they feel like must be upheld in order to be seen as socially acceptable. Teens  that get into situations where they have to end up taking medication for a physical pain can often turn phycological in a short matter of time. 

Salazar later adds, “it also has to do what mental illness like maybe they are just going through stuff and that’s why a lot of people try it. It’s both though because people can be sad or depressed and their friends tell them they should try [drugs] to make them feel better so it’s peer pressure as well.”

These teens that end up taking advantage of these intense, possibly life altering drugs, are of those that are already dealing with mental health issues to begin with. They start to use their physical pain medication in order to heal mental frustration. Some teens rely on drugs for self medication, which in turn can be both physical and mental. Fifteen percent of adolescents take headache remedies at least several times per month. This self-medication can have severe consequences if not monitored adequately, and even still… what will guarantee the safety and mental stability of these teens?

Even if these inner and outer social situations can be handled in an effective way, how do we go about the media and technological aspect of the complications at hand? 

We are in a digital era. This age of social media and technology that we have been working years to obtain has turned against us. Or maybe…we are turning it against ourselves. 

The link to drugs/alcohol abuse and social media is all too clear. Substance use is often glorified, celebrated, and normalized when it comes to social media. It is agreeable that we shouldn’t make judgments on how one decides to live the life of their choosing but the fact is that young children have access to everything, that of an adult has when it comes to social media. 

Bronx teen, Nikole Rajgor says, “it’s like not only does it promote drug use but also allows teens to find drugs more easily for example on snapchat I see people that are selling prescription drugs and other kinds of drugs through social media.”

This is an alarming fact because social media has made it so teens and the “it people” are put on display and drugs are amped up to be considered “cool.” 

According to iSchool junior, Romello Hemphill, “[He thinks] that when teenagers see other teenagers do drugs, they think in their minds ‘ouu I wanna do drugs too’ so when people post it on social media they’re thinking ‘oh maybe I should start doing it too because it looks really cool’ but it’s negative.” 

The authors of a study that recently took place has shown that most of the messages contains favorable sentiments about the substance and the 59% of these tweets are estimated to be sent by youth less than the age of 20. Myspace, Facebook, and Twitter, have shown alcohol use on social media have been found to be “indicative of personal use” among young people and a more likely to enhance normative perceptions among followers of those posts.” 

It has been reported on several accounts that social media has been used to pair buyers and sellers. Tobacco, electronic cigarettes, and alcohol industries have been known to integrate marketing strategies among the large youth presence on social media with buyer consumption, according to The Journal of Adolescent Health

Social media is this new technological breeding ground for the buying and selling of drugs. As stated by the Pew Research Center, nine of every ten teens use social media platforms, 70% of these teens, using more than one. This means that all of these teens that have access to social media, also have the means to an entire market of drugs and alcohol even within the students that go to their schools.

New York teen, Temera Degroot states, “Going to Beacon. There is easy access to because it’s all around in schools and I pass people that I know that do it, even in the halls; like cigarettes are even stronger stuff. I think it has an impact because social media often influences our decisions but there are many other factors but with social media drugs are definitely glorified. They often don’t show the negative sides to drug use.” 

She is right. Social media, or even at times mainstream media, does not show the negative sides of drugs. Most teens don’t even get the proper education or are misinformed on the effects and power drugs and alcohol can have on our bodies and brains, especially at such young ages. Well, let’s talk about it. 

Brains, and brain development. We are in a digital age, as we have previously discussed. This means these screens that we have are everywhere and makes it take longer for our brains to develop on their own. According to Arizona State University, our brains are constantly changing due to the information we are constantly observing over time. They are more susceptible to change as a teenager because our brains develop back to front (the prefrontal cortex being last). The prefrontal cortex contributes to planning, decision making and personality development.

Studies suggest that the next generation’s brains won’t be fully developed because of this until they are well into their twenties or early thirties. Whether people consider the correlation or not, health and brain development is largely impacted by what we put inside our bodies. Alcohol is one of those things that happen to poison our brains. Alcohol is a toxin/poison, meaning that it leads to extremely destructive effects of not only the brain but other parts of the body. 

Alcohol is also a depressant. It suppresses glutamate and increases Gaba. It changes the way our brains work because of the way our brains are structured. The way it functions is ruptured with the intake of alcohol. Gaba is the place that organizes and differentiates our thoughts (inhibitory). This rearrangement and destruction leads to further damage in more parts of our brains (the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, and cerebellum). 

As stated by Psychology Today, “The physical structure of the brain remains constant, but the addition of a tiny chemical drastically alters brain function and ultimately behavior.” This means trouble, both long and short term. Alcohol slows down the brain and makes us think, feel, and remember less. 

It also means we are more likely to have trouble with decision making, cognitive thinking, vision and balance. Psychology Today then goes on to say, “abnormal functioning in the hippocampus — a key area for memory formation — in teen binge drinkers. Reflecting their abnormal brain scans, the teen drinkers did more poorly on learning verbal material than their non-drinking counterparts.” Teens who experiment with alcohol are more likely to perform worse than their counterparts. Our chemical structure changing leads to it being more challenging for us to focus and perform in school, making it even more difficult to keep up with grades and testing. 

Aside from the brain, alcohol irritates the mouth, esophagus and throat. It also slows down respiration and makes the heart race, meaning the heart is working harder. If  our heart pumps blood too fast, it could shut down and lead to death. The liver is also affected. The liver is what filters out the toxins from our bodies. Alcohol directly affects the liver because if one is drinking too much, the liver is constantly trying to filter out it’s toxicity. The constant need to filter the alcohol out is what breaks the liver down. 

Now that we have taken the time to understand what is going on on the inside while peer pressure and societal influence is causing a ruckus on the outside, we can understand that teens and alcohol or drugs are not a good mix. 

Rajgor later adds, “The way that every drug starts out is because it is marketed and brought into society, through social media especially, it is often advertised to be better and people always end up being drawn into it. It becomes a new ‘trendy’ thing and there is always a lot of misinformation that people are both ignorant and oblivious.” 

There are very obviously teens that see the rise in adolescent abuse of drugs and alcohol. There are some that don’t care what’s happening. Some that are surprised, and others that partake in the drug use themselves. 

Students and teens everywhere know that adolescent drinking and drug abuse is such a huge problem in society right now. Not just American society but society within the culture of what “being a teen” is considered to be. 

Although drugs and alcohol are so present and common on social media, teens and young people also take to social media to speak out against these issues that so many recognize. 

Shaiweh Chisholm, 21, from Salford took to YouTube to shed light on the growing psychological epidemic of peer pressure. Chisholm uses a spoken word piece to ease teens and young people into making it easier to say “no” to drugs and alcohol and showing these young souls that these stimulants and depressants don’t have to be looked at as “cool” just because that’s the label society has placed on it. 

Through his spoken word, he is able to speak truth through personal anecdotes that really find a way to resonate with the audience, especially the younger crowd. 

Very well mind suggests that in reality, peer pressure can be either a positive or negative influence that one peer, or group of peers, has on another person. 

If more teens rise to the occasion and take to social media to share positive experiences (that are not illegal and drug or alcohol related) and speak out against issues that tend to have devastating effects on teens, less adolescents would end up addicted or contributing to another mere statistic. 

Our young people are told that “drinking and drugs are bad” but most don’t understand the cognitive effects of poisoning our young brains. Starting this conversation and giving the youth an opportunity to learn about alcohol and learn the effects on us long term, as well as decrease the negative peer pressure inflicted on teens will lead to safer practices within teens regardless of outside pressures. 

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