Substance use, including tobacco products such as electronic cigarettes, has increased among youth in our community. Starting in middle school, we have seen that vaping has been recognized as something cool that everyone was doing. At one point or another, we all have experienced moments where we felt peer pressure to take up this new thing that all our friends were doing. For instance, we might have heard our friends say it helps them deal with stress and anxiety. A close friend might have told us to “try it” and some of us might have been tempted for a second. In other instances, we have contemplated substance use of any kind because we wanted to fit in a new environment with a new crowd because we thought “how bad can it really be?” However, substance use poses many dangers to your physical health and mental health. By writing this, our goal is to inform not only our peers, the Somali youth, but also our parents and/or guardians about the prevalence of substance use among youth in our community. More people need to acknowledge the extent of this issue that is not only causing significant physical health issues but also worsening the mental health of our youth.
Vaping by Somali youth has increased significantly in recent years, and starts as early as middle school. At this age, peer pressure can make vaping seem “cool” and lead to youth using it to fit in with their peers. However, vaping at this age primes the developing brain for more substance use such as Marijuana or other harmful substances which can result in serious mental health issues. A 2017 report on substance use found that Somali youth in middle school and high school are more likely to use illicit drugs and misuse prescription medication in the state of Minnesota than their non-Somali peers. Consequently, many of our Somali youth are struggling with mental health issues.
What a lot of youth are not well-informed about are the serious health problems that vaping and substance use can cause. Besides addiction, substance use can cause long term health issues that are often irreversible. For example, most vaping products, such as JUUL, contain high levels of nicotine, which is the drug found in tobacco products to make them addictive. A single JUUL pod contains at least as much nicotine as a pack of 20 regular cigarettes. Nicotine is quickly absorbed into the body and goes directly to the brain. It activates areas of the brain that make you feel satisfied and happy, so the person using these products may think that vaping is helping them when in reality, it is just providing a temporary feeling that will make the person addicted and only worsen their mental health. Besides nicotine, e-cigarette aerosol and flavorings can contain cancer-causing chemicals, heavy metals, and ultrafine particles that can be inhaled deeply into the lungs and harm your body.
Nicotine in vaping products is dangerously addictive and can lead to other addictions to different tobacco products or other harmful substances. Substance use might provide temporary happy sensations, excitement or relaxation, but it impacts your body, thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and even affects the loved ones around you. Continued substance use can cause serious health issues such as lung disease, liver problems, and increased risk for stroke. It can also drastically change your physical appearance and cause or worsen mental health.
Therefore, when it comes to stress, anxiety or any other issues with mental health, it is important to find healthy ways of coping, rather than turning to substance use. Find practical ways that work for you to quiet the noise inside your mind and the world around you. For example, try going on a walk, taking time off from technology, and surrounding yourself with nature. You can also try mindfulness, a type of meditation that helps you focus and be aware of what you are feeling at that moment. It is important to engage in other productive activities such as art, sports, or learning a new skill to fill your time. Engage in activities that also help you avoid isolation and keep you connected with your family and friends, such as sharing a meal or taking a walk with someone.
Our community, both adults and youth, should unite as one to fight against these dangerous products and poisonous advertisements that target the youth in our community. We should stand up against this problem and provide a safe environment that promotes healthier coping strategies. For our parents and guardians, we want to say that communication is very important. Most youths might be afraid of being judged by family or friends when they talk about their addiction or seek help with their mental health problems. The more we engage in open communication within ourselves and our community, the more we can understand what our youth are going through and provide them with the help they need. We need to you create a space where we feel safe and cared for so we can tell you about our problems and come to you for help.
For our peers, be careful with your choices. Remember that your brain is developing until the age of 25, so you wouldn’t want to negatively affect your brain during this important developmental stage. Keep your brain as healthy as you possibly can by staying away from substance use of any kind. Always stand by your choice to refuse drugs. Saying no takes courage and practice and you should not feel guilty about putting your health and safety first. We’ve all experienced some sort of peer pressure, but remember that you are your own person. You are living for yourself, not others, so think about what’s right for you and don’t let what others do dictate your choices. Be yourself, no matter what. Always remember that a true friend should respect a friend’s choice to say “no”. If your friends are not willing to understand, then you likely have the wrong friends.