Our View: Focused on rehabilitation, in search of a more sympathetic view on addiction for students

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Graphic by Abi Wilson '20

The Tower Editorial Board

“Crap belongs in the bowl, not in your lungs.”
For the past few years, anti-smoking and anti-vaping ads containing slogans like this have been hung in bathrooms and hallways around the school. We at the Tower believe that this type of preventative action is ineffective and displays a lack of understanding and empathy towards those facing addiction.
We believe students are fully aware of the negative effects of nicotine usage; restating them as a scare tactic does not help those struggling with addiction or those who may be experimenting with substance. Rather, we think that rehabilitating those crippled by dependence and properly informing those who are potential users about the benefits of not using these substances will create a healthier and more honest environment to grow in.
Teenagers are generally apathetic, and thus less concerned about negative side effects associated with nicotine usage. According to a study by the University College London Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, the medial prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for higher-level thinking, empathy and guilt, is less active in teenagers than adults.
This apathetic attitude practiced by teens likely contributes to the prevalence of underage substance use. Due to the inherently experimental and unconcerned frame of mind often associated with teen users, we believe that a more caring approach to helping students would be more effective than the current approach.
We do not believe that invoking guilt or fear is the correct way to rehabilitate those struggling or prevent future usage. Countries like Switzerland treat drug addiction as a disease rather than a crime and offer holistic psychological care towards addicts. While the issues faced at South are on a lesser scale, we think that these types of policies would be effective.
In the current Student Handbook, the following is stated: “Substance abuse curricula will be taught on a regular basis to all age groups, K-12. Staff and parents shall be educated not only of the preventative aspects, but also on identification of and intervention in the addiction process.” Health classes with drug education are offered at South, but can be avoided with an extra credit of English, Math, Science, or World Languages.
However this sentiment is contradicted by the extracurricular code of conduct, which has harsh punishment for substance use. Violation of policy can lead to suspension from activities, loss of leadership positions and potentially removal from all extracurricular activities.
According to a report by healthvermont.gov, students who participate in extracurricular activities weekly are “significantly less likely” to use alcohol, tobacco or marijuana compared to students who do not regularly participate in extracurricular activities.
While we believe that students who use illegal substances should not get off scot-free, this kind of counterintuitive thinking stand to hurt those who are in genuine need of help.