New Intern: Lily Deware

I have always been interested in substance use and prevention, but my passion for it ultimately stemmed from discovering that addiction runs in my family. Science says that addiction is a disease and can be genetically inherited, but until I learned of personal connections, I did not completely comprehend how common and serious substance use/abuse can be. As I have grown up, this has become increasingly relevant to my life; my uncle died from alcoholism and my mother smoked cigarettes and died from cancer. With these experiences in mind, I have been baffled by the normalization of underage drinking and the consumption of marijuana products in my family.

Some might think that caution would be taken knowing our family history, but it seems as though society has normalized both of-aged and underage substance use so dramatically that familial history is no longer a concern, and it is not uncommon to see my 17 year old cousin sipping on a CBD Cider. When this happens, I have to remind myself that not everyone follows rules to the same degree as I do and that I have to think about my cousins in different settings. Many of them are in college and, unfortunately, I would be naive to think that they did not partake in underage substance use there. That being said, college students have always participated in that type of culture but used to have to hide it from adults and other authority figures. Now, it truly shocks me every time my aunt casually hands my underaged cousin a drink.

Being a psychology student, am very aware of the affects that substance use can have a person’s brain, and how severe these affects can be on a young, developing brain. These facts alone have startled me out of substance use, but this is not the case for most people. The little education available to younger populations about the harmful effects of substance use seems to be overshadowed by the current rise in social media and television/movies. Social media has taken today’s world by storm; younger people are constantly comparing themselves to others online. Although these comparisons can be along the lines of, “I wish my hair looked like this girls’,” posts with substances are not uninvited and it is very easy for an underage person to see these images and the popularity of the people in them and assume that because the people in the images are cool, what they are doing is cool as well. Along with this, it seems as though every movie with high school or college aged people has at least one party scene displaying a variety of underage substance use. The intention of these scenes is to be realistic, but when they are seen by younger populations, expectations and standards are often set of high school and college aged people in the minds of those watching, which ultimately further normalizes underage substance use.

I am fully aware that a 21 year old girl attending the University of Vermont, a school notorious for a variety of substance use, cannot do much to change this new reality, but a start could be made by focusing on members of this younger generation and implementing prevention programs informing this population of the severity and risks of underage substance use. Things like creating informational pamphlets, videos, and articles for underaged populations about the risks and harmful effects of substance use would be extremely beneficial. Although I am no longer a minor, I am still close in age to many of the underaged people affected by substance use and could relate to them on levels that others may not be able to. Although in these times it is hard to have personal connection, getting voices like mine the community, even if not in person, could only have positive outcomes.