Substance abuse is a critical issue among the Greenwich youth community with teens becoming more susceptible to the influences of substances as they age, according to greenwichtogether.org. Drug use among teens tends to increase during the transition from middle school to high school. To counter the harmful effects and misinformation surrounding teenage substance abuse, Greenwich Together, an organization that collects information about substance abuse in Greenwich, collaborates with teens through youth leadership groups such as the Greenwich Youth Coalition. These organizations strive to protect young people from substance abuse and addiction while raising awareness about their danger with teens and families.
Greenwich Together works to mobilize the Greenwich community to spread knowledge about the risks of substance abuse and prevent teenage substance addiction. Greenwich Together partners with schools and other organizations in Greenwich, including Sacred Heart Greenwich and the Greenwich Youth Coalition (GYC), to implement a teen perspective in spreading information about these issues.
GYC is a group of Greenwich teenagers who meet to discuss social issues that impact the town of Greenwich. It continues to expand with new teen members joining the cohort to provide their own voice and solutions to problems within their community. Sophomore Emily Sedgwick is passionate about many different civic causes, which led her to join the Youth Coalition.
“My interest in social issues stemmed from what humans are doing to our environment,” Emily said. “I got really interested in issues surrounding sustainability. As I grew passionate about the environment, I got to learn about more causes. I thought it [the Greenwich Youth Coalition] was a unique opportunity, so it was cool to be a part of something that not many other people get to be a part of.”
Emily specifically gained an interest in issues surrounding teenage substance abuse when she joined GYC. She commented on the magnitude of the issue and the importance of supporting people who struggle with substance abuse through seemingly small actions.
“It is so much bigger than just what you see on the internet,” Emily said. “It affects many members in our own community. A lot of people are dealing with these issues and I can help them. Just by an ad that you curate on any social media, you can really change someone’s life if you get through.”
To spread awareness about the harmful nature of substances, specifically alcohol, GYC collaborated with Greenwich Together to create an informative advertising campaign. Greenwich Together surveyed Greenwich youth about their substance use in May 2021. The survey found that although the amount of teenage substance use decreased over the past few years, 53 percent of Greenwich teens in high school have tried alcohol with that number increasing to 67 percent of all twelfth-grade students, according to greenwichtogether.org.
Ms. Ellen Brezovsky is a social worker who has spent most of her career working with people who struggle with substance abuse. While working to get her Master of Social Work, Ms. Brezovsky interned at various psychiatric facilities. She worked with people suffering from chronic mental illness along with people who suffered from Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and opioid addiction. Through her work as an intern, Ms. Brezovsky developed a passion for spreading information on drug abuse to prevent people from coping with addiction later in life. She discussed what first sparked her career focus of preventing substance abuse.
“I always had contact with clients who either were actively in substance use or in recovery from substance use,” Ms. Brezovsky said. “They were so inspiring. The people, especially in recovery, worked so hard to get their lives back on track.”
The Greenwich Together youth survey demonstrated that over 50 percent of high school students report that alcohol is easy to access. Correlating with the normalcy and accessibility of alcohol in teen culture, the abuse of alcohol and other substances continues to be a serious problem, according to greenwichtogether.org. Ms. Brezovsky commented on the severity of substance abuse and the importance of preventing addiction early in life.
Ms. Brezovsky participates in a national event to prevent the abuse and overuse of prescription drugs. Courtesy of Ms. Ellen Brezovsky
“Delaying is the best tactic because the [longer] you can go without using up until the age of 25 when your brain stops developing, you can prevent neuro pathways from changing that might be prone to addiction,” Ms. Brezovsky said.
Ms. Brezovsky now works with Greenwich Together and partnered with the Greenwich Youth Coalition through her organization to help spread information about preventative measures for abuse to Greenwich teens and parents. She commented on the importance of teens spreading information about substance abuse to support their peers.
“Youth tend to listen to other youth more than they will to adults,” Ms. Brezovsky said. “It is really important for teens to have accurate information. If their friends give them accurate information, they will be less likely to spread misinformation, which can be really harmful. Youth feel like they [their peers] get it.”
Although substance abuse is a complex issue, Ms. Brezovsky believes that the best method of prevention is support from parents and peers.
“For parents, the most important thing is to talk to kids early about the dangers of substance use,” Ellen said. “As soon as elementary school, you really have to talk to kids about the dangers of vaping, especially. As for other teens, really just trying to listen and not pass judgment and trying to get the person help early if you’re seeing any signs is really important.”
Featured Image by Lindsay Taylor ’24