We for Wellness

An anonymous, non-emergency, mental health, and drug use AMA

ETHS: To submit questions, access resources, or join our team, go to tinyurl.com/weforwellness


Archives can also be accessed here

The We for Wellness column is run by a subcommittee of the Evanston Mental Health Taskforce. It consists of mental health advocates in Evanston (like social workers, specialists, students etc.) This is a confidential, straightforward, and supportive space to normalize everyday conversations around mental health and substance use. This column does not replace existing resources, but rather builds a community of support and understanding around them. Let’s listen, learn, and grow together!

Alcohol dependence or addiction just like many other mental and/or physical diseases has certain risk factors (things that put you at risk of having a problem) and protective factors (things that protect you from having a problem). The likelihood of a person developing a problem depends on a combination of these two. Genes are said to be a prominent risk factor for addiction along with others like social environment, accessibility to substances, age at which you first consume substances etc. So, if your parent is struggling with an alcohol problem it puts you at risk of having one but does not automatically mean you have one/ are born with one.

Something you can do, regardless of the substance use choices you make, is talk to a social worker, doctor, or trusted adult for support. You can compare this approach with other diseases like type 2 diabetes or cancer- if it runs in the family, you’re told to be careful, go for regular check-ups, monitor your lifestyle, eat healthier, or take preventative measures. The same goes for substance use disorders!

It’s absolutely valid you want a therapist you can relate to! Therapists are supposed to meet you where you are, be able to empathize with your lived experiences, realize your needs, and be culturally competent. Finding a therapist can be challenging but ETHS has resources that help. You can start by going to room W121 and talk to a social worker about what you’re looking for and they can help connect you with resources. You can also reach out to one of the local mental health organizations that specialize in youth services (link in QR code!), or try psychologytoday.com>find a therapist where you can filter by multiple categories like race, location, gender, price etc.

It’s understandable you feel like you cannot juggle both. It can be so draining when you’re stuck between helping yourself and simultaneously trying to find room to support your friend. They are lucky to have a friend like you who cares! Something you can try to do is scale down your support to smaller gestures. That could be as simple as telling them you’re thinking about them or how much you appreciate them, or validating their feelings. You can also encourage them to find professional sources of support (“That can be a lot to handle. Have you considered approaching a social worker, support group or helpline for everyday support?”), or be honest with them about your journey (“I’ve been feeling low as well. I’m sorry I’m not around as much but know that I still care about you”). It is okay for you to take the space you need to prioritize your wellness while checking in on your friend whenever you can. This way, they know you care and you don’t feel responsible for having the entire weight of their problems on you. 

It doesn’t make you a bad friend if you need to set boundaries for yourself to heal. We are like emotional sponges, people around us can affect how we feel and vice versa. So it’s vital for us to take care of ourselves so we can better support our friends as well!

The social pressure to drink/consume drugs can be very real and daunting. Take a minute to think about what it is that pressures you in the moment- you could rehearse your refusal strategy beforehand based on that. e.g. If you’re afraid of being left out of the group, maybe you can say how you want to be sober so you can drive, or be there in case of an emergency or if someone needs help. You could suggest an alternate activity that you could all do that doesn’t involve drugs. You could also have an honest conversation with your friend/ someone you trust about how you feel, and they can help you be more comfortable with not participating in the moment. Remember, you’re not alone- majority of high schoolers report not wanting to consume substances. Your friendships should not be contingent on your participation either, so it’s always okay to say a firm no!

If you are ever worried about the safety or wellbeing of your friend, tell a trusted adult (like your ETHS social worker in room W121) who can help connect them to support.

There are many risk factors that make a person more susceptible to the negative effects of drugs like age, mental health, genetics, or relationships. Teens are usually cautioned against all illegal drug use due to their age. Teen brains are extremely vulnerable and under-developed during adolescence, and drugs severely mess with brain functioning. Research shows that teen drug use negatively affects the development of the prefrontal cortex which is responsible for functions like problem solving, decision making, moral thinking etc.

Early drug use also makes it more likely for us to develop substance use problems like addiction, dependence, or long-term use. It’s extremely difficult for someone to have an addiction to cigarettes for example, if they have never smoked a cigarette before the legal age when the brain is almost fully developed.

So to answer your question, it depends on how the drug will interact with your specific body and brain. For some people once is sometimes enough to kickstart a problem, dependence, overdose, or have a bad experience.

Social work services at ETHS are confidential. Parents are usually not contacted unless there is a safety concern such as if you want to hurt yourself, hurt someone else, or if someone is hurting you. However, social workers can help you communicate with your parents and help you start the conversation with them about getting support.

Counseling/therapy can be a daunting process but there are many avenues available at ETHS to make it easy. Students can email their social workers directly through the Find My Social Worker page using this link: https://www.eths.k12.il.us/Page/795. Or you can visit W121 at any time throughout the school day to talk to a social worker in-person. They are here to help you navigate challenges safely and without judgment.

Let’s break this down. To answer the first part: It is possible to get addicted or at least experience symptoms of dependence through secondhand vaping/smoking alone. Secondhand exposure to these chemicals- especially in enclosed spaces- makes teen brains more vulnerable to nicotine addiction. Studies also show that teens who are consistently exposed are more likely to become smokers, develop respiratory illnesses, and crave nicotine due to an increase in brain nicotine level/activity. As for the second part: Assigning blame to those who experience addiction and dependence oftentimes increases the stigma and shame around substance use and treatment.

As a community, something we can do instead is to be properly informed about drugs, their effects, and different resources for help that offer non-judgmental treatment or assistance. This could be a trusted adult or a social worker at school. We can additionally develop empathy towards our peers who might be struggling and need our help and support. If you are interested in getting substance use-related support for yourself or have a concern about a friend, you can always reach out to your social worker in W121.

The pandemic has been extremely difficult, and a constant source of pain and trauma for many who have lost their loved one to it. Everyone deals with grief and loss differently, but something you can do initially is to reach out and extend your support. Tell them that you’re there and will listen if they need to talk. You can offer to help them with something, like help them study for a test or complete a task at home. You can also ask them to share stories about the person they lost if you notice that they are comfortable with it, as sharing happy memories can sometimes help people cope. If they are isolating and you are worried about them, checking-in by visiting them, by sending a text, or by video call can also be helpful. Your friend can also get support from a social worker at ETHS– offer to take your friend to see their social worker in W121. And remember, if there is ever a situation where you are worried for their safety, reach out to a trusted adult who can help, or call 911.

Drugs affect people’s bodies differently depending on several factors like the person’s age (youth brains are still developing which makes them vulnerable to drug dependence- hence teens are cautioned against it), genetic history (people who have addiction/ dependence in the family are at risk), environment, access to substances, length of use etc. There is no foolproof way to tell if using a drug one time or even a few times will lead to addiction. These interactions will ultimately also affect the course of treatment or “quitting” or “getting off drugs”. There are several treatment routes that are available to teens. None of them guarantee a “surefire” recovery, but that is not to say it is impossible. Recovery and treatment options can include but are not limited to counseling, medication assisted treatment programs, 12-step programs, support groups, adventure therapy, or group therapy. For some teens, treatment can be a one-and-done experience to get off drugs, for others recovery could be a lifelong commitment with side-effects of withdrawal and relapses. It’s a spectrum of outcomes!

There’s no definite way to tell what a teen will go through at the start. If you are struggling with dependence, use, or addiction, visiting your school social worker in W121, or confiding in a trusted adult can be a great first step in your recovery journey.

Yes! depending on the kind of support you are looking for there are many options you can choose from. They include but are not limited to approaching your family doctor or primary care physician for help or a referral, local mental health organizations around you (evanstoncarenetwork.org), free online resources like the Crisis Text Line (text HOME to 741741) or the National Suicide Prevention Helpline (800-273-8255), or free quitting resources like This is Quitting (text DITCHVAPE to 88709). You can explore other resources at peerservices.org/peerprevention. Your social workers and health clinics at ETHS can be a good resource to refer you to help even outside school! And remember, if there is ever a situation where you are worried for your safety, reach out to a trusted adult who can help, or call 911.