Health at Latin Special: Latin Knows What You Did in the Dark

Hedy Gutfreund “I get wasted every single weekend, and I don’t know how to stop myself.” No Latin student has ever said these words to Upper School guidance counselor Ms. Stevens during her time at Latin. Substance abuse may not be the most obvious problem at Latin because of the taboo nature of it that keeps it below the surface, but it’s a problem that we need to talk about—because the school is willing to help. Those words would not get a student in trouble; the school wants to support its students. Latin’s “Support and Sanctuary” program is unique and designed to help students, but it has hardly ever been used. In Ms. Stevens’ words, “The spirit of Sanctuary is that a student is able to self-identify that he or she needs help and that he or she made a poor choice. Instead of disciplinary action, we work to learn healthier decisions and talk about the patterns of usages.” Only two students have used Sanctuary in the three years that the school has had it, perhaps because students are afraid to get help. Why? Why are students unwilling to get help? Ms. Stevens thinks there is “some deception” in our community on the part of students and adults, because, sometimes, “it’s easier [for adults] to look the other way” and that it is easy to get alcohol. She speculates, “Maybe it’s a taboo around the drinking part, because I’m a teacher and a counselor and that even though I have to keep things confidential, they don’t want me to know.” Still, she knows the signs that you need help. If the thought of when you can get the next drink or when you can get drunk again is a “prevalent” or “predominant” thought in your mind or if you are “soothing or self-medicating” with substances to numb yourself of problems in your life, you might be addicted to alcohol. Ms. Stevens also urges you to go home and ask your parents whether addiction runs in the family. If addiction is in your family history, you are fifty percent more likely to become an addict. She notes that it is “not that you’re going to, just that you’re more likely to become addicted.” Ms. Stevens also notes the role that anxiety and depression play in the use of alcohol and that addiction is often “a symptom of the anxiety.” Ms. Stevens’ role is to treat the mental health issue and then address the symptoms such as substance abuse. She underscores that we are lucky to have the resources to deal with substance abuse problems like “wonderful therapists and wonderful treatment centers like Hazelden and Rosecrance” with various programs depending on the student’s needs and the family’s means or insurances. Because Ms. Stevens and Latin know that drinking happens, she would like to offer a few words of advice for safety on the weekends. She thinks the biggest issue is that students need to take better care of their friends. She also urges you to reduce harm by “limiting your drinks, drinking water in between, and not doing it every weekend.” Never drink and drive or get in a car with someone who has been drinking, and try not to drink until as late as possible in life, because it reduces your chance of addiction. Although she is not encouraging people to drink, if people make that choice she’s “not here to say don’t do it, but I’m saying know your risks and reduce your harm.” And if you need help, the resources are here for you.  ]]>