In fact, as a Young Marine we pledge to live a healthy, drug-free lifestyle.
|Young Marines Sgt Maj Abbigail Waters|
Those are not just words to me. It has always held a more personal spot in my heart. I’ve had several members of my family who have struggled with drug misuse, including an uncle who died of a drug overdose. Seeing the ripples that drug misuse has on the entire family really made me want to make a difference and help my peers stay away from drugs.
Being a Young Marine has always been such a big part of my life, and with our focal point being Drug Demand Reduction, I’ve had so many opportunities to learn about the dangers of drug misuse and also ways to say no to peer pressure. Being able to talk to kids about what I’ve learned and help educate my community has become a passion of mine.
It is important for me and my peers to be drug free because I think we are the future leaders of this country. We all have such big and amazing dreams for what we want our lives to look like in 5, 10, 20 years… and drug misuse will derail all those dreams we have. Through education, we can help keep our peers from even starting on the path of drug addiction.
How Do I Respond to Peer Pressure?
In high school, there are many times my friends and I have been pressured to use drugs. I have found that even having one friend stand up and say no, makes it easier for everyone else to follow the positive influences.
However, I have had friends who have fallen into the pressure to try drugs and what I tell them is that it is just not worth it. The best strategy is to think about the goals you want to achieve in your life. The path of drug misuse will not allow you to reach those goals and can cost you your life.
Telling my friends what happens to your brain and body when you put drugs into it is also a very useful tool. It is not enough to say, “just say no.” Most kids need to know the why. For me, my motivation has always been joining the Marine Corps after I graduate. When I hold that in my head, it becomes much easier to say no to pressures.
Your goals and dreams, that is your “why.” Everyone needs a “why” that is bigger than peer pressure. Encouraging kids to find their “why” is something I always try and do because I think that is key to keeping kids away from drugs.
Dealing With Stress
Sometimes people turn to drugs to escape life and the stresses they are under. Having healthy ways to deal with stress is so important so you do not fall into that trap of trying to numb your feelings.
Some of the things that work for me when I am stressed is being involved with hobbies. I am a huge dog person, and spending time with my dogs helps me relax. During the pandemic, I have also really gotten into baking! So when I am stressed, I will try a new recipe for my family to eat. By the time I’m done baking my stress has been forgotten.
And then of course, staying physically active is so helpful! After I work out my mind and body feel better and it definitely keeps stress away.
Working with Red Ribbon Week
One of my favorite drug prevention projects that I get to be a part of in the Young Marines is Red Ribbon Week. It is the last week of October each year and is in honor of Special Agent "Kiki" Camarena. He believed that one person could make a difference in the war on drugs, and I have that same philosophy.
Each year for Red Ribbon Week, I visit middle schools to give presentations. I talk to the students about who Kiki was, why we remember him, and talk to them about gateway drugs and strategies to say no to peer pressure. I end the presentation by having them take the pledge to live a healthy, drug free lifestyle and giving them red ribbons.
I encourage them to go home and talk to their parents and siblings about what they learned, hoping that many of them will take the information and BE the positive role model in their schools and homes.
One question that always comes up in these presentations is vaping, and how do they say no when their friends are vaping. So many of the kids I talk to do not understand the health consequences of vaping, and so sometimes get easily swayed into trying with their friends. That is why talking to kids and teaching them the dangers is so important to me. Education really is the key to preventing drug misuse, underage drinking, and vaping.
Our Generation Can Make a Difference
The message I would like to give to young people who want to make a difference in their communities is that you can be the change! One person is enough to start a ripple of good. Kids listen to other kids, and your voice can be a positive influence.
I have given presentations for the past 5 years and I can tell you I’ve had my share of rolling eyes and smart comments. But I’ve also had so many kids come talk to me after my presentation and want to know more. They want a pamphlet to bring home to help a sibling, they tell me their parent is smoking pot and want to know how they can help, they ask questions about drug addiction, and sometimes it is even the kid who was rolling their eyes around their friends.
Kids will listen, you just have to be brave enough to be a voice. Our generation is the one that can make a dent in drug misuse, through education and making good choices ourselves.