Editor’s note: Some names in this story have been changed to protect the identities of those interviewed.
When Dana realized she couldn’t stop her ex-boyfriend from doing drugs, she did them with him.
Morphine. Oxycodone. Codeine. Vicodin. Buprenorphine. Ecstasy. Molly. Marijuana. Cocaine. Mushrooms. Alcohol.
She snorted Molly off a bathroom counter, went to a party where she proceeded to drink ten beers, and the rest of the night was a blur.
One night, she took Molly, smoked pot and drank alcohol. The night ended with her friend’s fingers down her throat to make her throw up.
For four years, Dana allowed herself to make these decisions.
“Every time I've mixed alcohol and drugs, I never thought about the repercussions, but to be honest I've never really cared either. I don't think I'm invincible in any way, shape, or form. I'm a very impulsive person and I guess I take risks, even if it means my life is at risk,” Dana said.
According to Greg Engel, a psychology professor who teaches a course called “Drugs and Behavior,” it’s normal for people under 30 to take risks.
A lot of research shows that before the frontal cortex – the part of the brain responsible for making decisions and thinking through things – is fully developed, people are not fully capable of making rational decisions, according to Engel.
“There are two ways I think it traditionally goes when people mix substances. A lot of the time, these drug combinations might be to try and counteract some of what are perceived as the negative side effects of the drugs,” said Engel. “But I think the other way it can go is trying to just get even deeper. Taking drugs in combinations to try and enhance the high or the perceived valuable effect of the drug,”
Brad tried cocaine for the first time early in college. He went to a party with his friend, and they were offered a line. Brad did not expect to wake up in the parking lot a few hours later, keys in the ignition of his truck with a bag of beer in the passenger seat.
Since then, Brad has done cocaine a few times, but never sober.
“My sober brain doesn’t do cocaine,” Brad said.
Engel is not surprised by this.
“Along with the not fully developed frontal cortex, alcohol impairs decision making as well,” Engel said.
Though there are countless scary stories about mixing drugs and alcohol, not everyone has had something bad happen.
When Kourtney was a freshman, she tried cocaine for the first time. She smokes marijuana while drinking regularly, and doesn’t see any harm in mixing them if she is in a safe environment.
“It takes a lot of drugs to make something terrible happen, and I don’t do it often enough to need a lot in order to feel it. I’m not addicted to it,” Kourtney said.
Mackenzie feels the same way. She has been “casually” doing cocaine since her 18th birthday, when she was first offered a line.
“It didn’t do much. It makes me more focused. I don’t see a problem with it as long as I’m around safe people,” Mackenzie said.
Engel agrees. He stated that in the course he teaches, he does not emphasize that students should never do drugs.
According to Engel, recent research has shown that the program D.A.R.E, a program that presents to students, typically in middle school that drugs are bad and can cause serious physical and emotional harm, does not provide students with the best education.
“It says that drugs are existentially bad, and when you do them, there is no going back. When people try drugs anyway and nothing terrible happens, they are surprised, and are more willing to experiment,” Engel said.
Though it is typical for people to be drawn to drugs when a family member has done them, according to the organization Drug Free World, these Castleton students do not have anyone close to them addicted to drugs.
Brad, Kourtney and Mackenzie all believe that if someone close to them had been impacted by drugs, it would change their opinions.
“It’s definitely scary and it makes me sad, but it doesn’t change my perspective enough to not do it,” Mackenzie said.
“It would make me see it differently, but everyone has to have their own experiences,” Brad said.
“If I saw someone in turmoil because of it, I wouldn’t do it,” Kourtney said.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, nearly 40 percent of teens experiment with drugs.
Engel has some words for them.
“Don’t focus on never doing drugs, but make sure if you do, that you are doing it responsibly. Make sure you have people there who are looking out for you so that if you’re not able to make good decisions, you have someone there who you trust who can make them for you. Have a designated decision maker,” Engel said.