Local experts talked about why teenagers use drugs and effective strategies for preventing use during a conversation at Arlington Library on Oct. 3.
The presentation was part of a series from Cocoon House and Sno-Isle Libraries designed to help parents or those who work with teens.
The series will continue this month with presentations at a variety of Snohomish County libraries, including another presentation at Arlington’s library on Oct. 24 about teenagers' struggle with identity.
The local nonprofit Cocoon House provides shelter for homeless teenagers and Faith Simonelli, prevention program manager from the organization, came to Arlington’s library to talk about preventing drug use.
Simonelli said it is important to “look at the cause of the behavior of the individual,” as that is one of the most effective ways to prevent teenage drug use.
There are a variety of reasons kids may turn to drugs, said Simonelli, and one of the more common is that drugs represent a coping strategy for their emotions they don’t know how to handle.
“Most teens feel anxious or depressed when they're facing a test or a big competition. They feel depressed if they feel excluded or having family issues. They can feel powerless if they’re being bullied,” she said.
Those emotions can be difficult for teenagers to handle, she said.
“These are all common feelings that as adults we have learned to regulate, but unfortunately our youths' brains haven’t formed that regulation yet,” said Simonelli.
“So it’s easy to see how someone that is anxious or powerless or depressed may turn to a drug to help them self-medicate to get through those situations,” she said.
Another one of the big reasons that teenagers might use drugs is to feel like they are part of a social group.
“The ultimate reason is to fit in, to feel good about themselves,” said Simonelli. “They can blend into the crowd and their inhibitions are gone."
Especially with some drugs such as marijuana, there may be many teenagers who claim to have used it but never actually have.
“I think marijuana is such a common thing nowadays that we see a lot of bragging rights when it comes to youth,” said Simonelli.
“It often comes out that the youth just wanted to save face with their friends,” she said.
On self-reported surveys only about 45 percent of 12th graders said they had ever tried marijuana, said Simonelli, and only 36 percent said they had used in the last year.
Another reason for drug use are the changes that continue to happen in the brain.
The brain is still developing for men until around age 24 or 25, and for women until the early 20s, said Simonelli.
“The part doing the most developing is the pre-frontal cortex and the mid-brain, which is the reward system, or the pleasure pathways,” she said.
“This part of the brain is where addictive drugs and romantic love assert their most power,” she said.
Although Simonelli said just because someone used drugs once doesn’t necessarily mean they will develop a problem.
“There are people that I know that have experimented with drugs once and that was it, and there are other people who tried it once and then became addicted,” she said.
Local Anna LaCourse said she enjoyed being able to talk about issues of drug use among teenagers.
“I thought it was nice and helpful. Hopefully it will help me with the youth in my life as they reach teenage years,” she said.
Presentations and talks from Cocoon House experts, like Simonelli’s, are going on through October at local libraries.
The next Arlington presentation is “Who Am I? Your Teen’s Quest for Identity” on Oct. 24 from 6 p.m. to 7:15 p.m.