Smell of smoke and booze fill the air

Mackenzie Clarke and Zack Rosenblatt

…the music blared; the bass was turned up high. Scattered red Solo cups painted the landscape of a stranger’s home filled with dozens of tipsy teenagers. Bottles passed around as chants escalated: “CHUG CHUG CHUG!”

A Hollywood fiction or the average Sequoia party? Both. While scenes like these are exaggerated in films and media, this is a weekend reality for many high school students.

According to data collected by a 2016 Teen Resource Center survey, 34.2 percent of the overall Sequoia student population has consumed alcohol at least once before. Although this is not the case for everyone, it can be safely assumed that at least some of these instances of substance use occur with friends at a party.

The reasons a student starts going to parties can differ greatly, ranging from peer pressure to pure curiosity.

“The first time I drank was freshman year, and I did it because my friend came up to me and offered it,” junior Kaleb said. “The first time it was offered that night, I said ‘no,’ but later in the night I caved and said ‘yeah, I’ll take some.’”

After that, Kaleb’s interest in alcohol and drugs increased along with his attendance of weekend parties. During the past few months, Kaleb has gone to about two parties a week. Despite this interweaving of parties and recreational drug use, Kaleb still accepts that the ‘party lifestyle’ isn’t always the safest option.

“Society is right to think that teenage partying is bad. Obviously, purposefully breathing [smoke] and drinking something poisonous isn’t good for you, but everyone needs to live their life at some point and decide what they want to do,” Kaleb said. “That’s all part of growing up.”

Other students attribute the origins of their drug use to individually-motivated exploration and curiosity. During the teenage years, the human brain undergoes significant growth and development in the prefrontal cortex, meaning that stimulation translates into much stronger feelings or “highs” for teens than for adults. This personal interest in experimenting can manifest itself when a student is by themselves in the comfort of their home or at a party with friends.

“I wanted to do weed, and my first time was with a friend,” junior Riley said. “One reason I do it is because it is fun. I didn’t know it was going to help me sleep, but I realized that after I started.”

While partying with friends on weekends can be an innocent pastime and source of stress relief for some high school students, it can also have the risk of escalating towards more destructive habits. However, this hasn’t been an issue for Riley.

“Your tolerance builds up to it but, to be honest, not that quickly. I’m more relaxed the rest of the day after smoking, even if the high is over. Even if I haven’t smoked that day, since I have started smoking, I just sleep better overall,” Riley said.

Risks of negative side effects increases as the substances become harder. For senior Ezra, hallucinogens are acceptable, but he draws the line at opiates.

“I’ve done acid and shrooms before, just with a few friends,” Ezra said. “I just wanted to try it. Psychedelics are not as bad as heroin. Screw heroin. Never in my life would I try that. With psychedelics… people say they give new perspectives.”

Senior Masha has more experience with the downsides of substance use.

“When I started to do harder stuff, the people who I was hanging out with during that time just weren’t good people,” Masha said. “At the height of it, when it was all bad, it was ‘oh I just want to go get faded.’ I just started binge drinking heavily.”

Masha was able to keep her academic performance separate, but there were social side effects.

“I was really school-motivated, so it didn’t affect my grades. I actually ended up getting straight A’s, but I stopped talking to all other friends that I wasn’t doing it with, and I kind of shut myself off because I knew they were going to ask me about what I was doing,” Masha said.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, prolonged drug abuse and addiction can lead to cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, HIV/AIDS, lung disease and hepatitis. While it is inarguable that most drugs, classified as both “soft” and “hard” can come with dangerous physical consequences, addiction is not only physical. Another aspect of what makes drugs dangerous is the use of them as suppressants for personal distress.

In some cases, life outside of school becomes dangerously intrusive.

“Some people are really good at compartmentalizing. But for some, partying is a lot more fun than dealing with responsibilities or personal problems so, instead, they [escape],” Masha said. However, not all who party end up involved in anything mind-altering.

“I’m not interested in trying drugs, although at the parties I go to, there’s usually weed, vape and hard alcohol,” sophomore Danny said. “I’ve had the opportunity to smoke and been tempted, but I usually say, ‘I’m fine.’”