Popping The Bubble

A look at drug culture in Allen

Natalie McMahon and Christian Hinton

During senior Sara’s* junior year, her ex-boyfriend got addicted to Xanax. He would miss school. He would miss work. He would forget entire conversations. He would spend money on drugs rather than save for things like gas money and college. It wasn’t until she gave him an ultimatum that he gradually stopped. That same year, senior Bryan* started experimenting with drugs. He began with vaping with his friends. Eventually, he went onto psychedelics such as LSD and MDMA. Drugs did not have the same effect on Bryan. To him, drugs magnified his appreciation for life.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 7.9 percent of adolescents in 2016 were users of illicit drugs, the lowest in decades. Support for recreational drug use has increased significantly in recent years with 64 percent of Americans supporting legalization of marijuana, according to Gallup polls. Crisis counselor Jennifer Atencio said students turn to drugs for a variety of reasons, such as stimulation to improve academically, as a way to cope with trauma or mental health issues, or because it’s socially acceptable.

“[Peer pressure is] probably the biggest [reason], but I would say the second closest would be stress, depression, [or] anything that’s going to cause problems at home [such as] parents going through a divorce, grades are terrible, applying for colleges, making huge decisions at such a young age where you don’t feel like you’re mature enough to make those decision, and you have a lot of pressure on your head,” student resources officer John Booth said. “Stresses, depression, peer pressure — that would be the reason why people turn to drugs.”

Bryan said social norms regarding drugs have evolved significantly in the past few decades regarding marijuana legalization and the different stereotypes that follow.

“I would say that I did it because of friends, but I feel like that can carry a negative connotation of peer pressure, but then I’d also say that you can apply that to all sorts of positive things in your life,” Bryan said. “If you have a friend that flies remote-controlled airplanes and you think that’s really cool, and you take it up too, that’s not a bad thing. Almost everything you do, almost all your passions are derived from other people who had them before you.”

Sara said that the main influences that led her ex-boyfriend to become addicted to Xanax were social media and his friends who also used the drug.

“I have conversations with students who do their best to persuade me that marijuana is a positive for them,” Atencio said. “The TSH content that available in marijuana is significantly higher than what was even available ten, fifteen years ago, and so I think that not enough research has been done on what drug use — and you can cite particularly marijuana use — is going to have on students. Every year, [users] continue to expand the time at which the brain becomes fully developed, which I think at this point, it’s your early twenties, so if you’re introducing a substance at age 15, 16, 17 and you continue that usage while your brain still developing, there is just a lot we don’t know about the impact that it’s going to have.”

Atencio said that drugs can disturb a student’s life in ways that can affect future decisions and opportunities in more ways than a student can understand.  

“They impact them very negatively, and it keeps them for learning,” school nurse Benny Bolin said. “It keeps them out of school, slows them down negatively and just messes up their whole life.”

According to Bryan, the negative impact of drugs causes an issue with a loss of motivation and impact on productivity when people start using drugs.

“I definitely see it affect people in not trying as hard with schoolwork, not putting in the same amount of effort as you’d expect to get,” Bryan said. “It’s a bit of a productivity decrease— [drugs are] kind of their new objective.”

Students can also be affected significantly by criminal charges related to drugs, which Booth says can hinder the ability to get a future job and affect college enrollment. Senior Connor* says that he was arrested last year when he stayed up doing drugs one night.

“It was all kinda hazy, and I fell asleep after I parked my car so then people inside the establishment saw me passed out in my car, thought I had overdosed and called the police,” Connor said. “They searched my bag and my car, found a bunch of things I wasn’t supposed to have and then that was basically that. They took me to a hospital and all and then they made me wait three weeks.” Connor said it was later that he saw his warrants and turned himself in.

Booth said the most common drugs found in Allen High school are pill-related, mostly because they don’t put off an odor like marijuana does.

“It comes in spurts. We’ll get a bunch at once and then it’ll be awhile before we get any more,” Booth said. “It just depends. I know it’s here every day, but we don’t always find it.”

When a student is thought to be on drugs, Bolin says he can do a certain number of tests to figure out if they are on drugs, such as if they can stand up with their eyes closed without falling over, if they’re shaking, or if they have a certain blood pressures, heart rates, and body temperatures.

“I can tell you that there are people under the influence daily. Every single day I can point out somebody,” Bolin said. “It’s not huge, but in my opinion, we have a drug problem if one kid is on drugs.”

Student resource officers can find out if someone has drugs by anonymous tips and student reports. Booth says that school enrollment involves signing a consent form that allows the school to search belonging or vehicles whenever relevant.

“The main things [are students] are not in class, they can’t think straight, they miss class, they get in trouble and all that kind of stuff,” Bolin said. “It negatively impacts them. I think they think that [drugs] are fun and they’re cool, but by the time they figure out that they’re not, they’re hooked and they can’t get off.”  

Bryan said that he researches every drug he does carefully, and knows all the effects on the body in order to do so safely.

“Initially, [drugs] give you a better appreciation for things, because whenever you do a drug, it causes euphoria, bliss [and] feeling really good and really happy,” Bryan said. “One of the things I like to say about myself, about my life, is I’m a pilot — I like to do dangerous things in a safe manner — and I apply that to drug usage as well, because obviously it can be very harmful if you don’t do it responsibly.”

Irresponsible drug usage has led to addiction in cases such as Sara’s ex-boyfriend. Sara says that his drug usage began to completely take over his life.  

“Some students may have the genetic component within them that may drive addiction to be present, so the minute they try something they are automatically drawn to it, and need it in order to function,” Atencio said. “Other times, I find that many of the students who use [drugs] are using as a coping skill. They’re trying to address maybe undiagnosed depression or anxiety.”

According to Sara, she feels as though some people are able able to do drugs and not get addicted. She says her ex-boyfriend was not one of those people.

He’ll start using it as a crutch, and you get addicted very fast,” Sara said. “He has a very hard time coming to terms that he has an addiction. He says ‘no, I’m just doing this for fun,’ and I’m like ‘no, you’re addicted.’ I think now he has [acknowledged it] after the multiple conversations we had, but he didn’t come to terms with that to quit. He didn’t quit because he wanted to, he quit because I made him.”

Sara said she believes that the bad drugs outweigh the good. She said she has taken drugs before and believes that one can be around those influences, but that she didn’t feel the same pressures that her ex-boyfriend felt.

“[My attitude] towards drugs in general: just don’t start, because especially with gateway drugs like Xanax, it’s going to lead to more things: coke, and then acid, then ecstasy and then before you know it, you could be addicted to meth or something like that,” Sara said. “People who are addicted to meth, they started somewhere.”

Booth said it’s important to understand what students are putting into their body and understand the legal consequence that could follow if found.  

“It’s a bad day if you have to take somebody to jail from this point, but sometimes we have to,” said officer Booth. “Just be smart. Educate yourself.”

*Names have been changed to protect identity