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Addiction help and where to get it: Recovery resources for college students

recovery resources for college students

There are two things to keep in mind for those concerned about drug and alcohol use in college: One, that not everyone who experiments with, or even regularly indulges in, these substances is going to become an addict or an alcoholic. And two: If they do find themselves with a problem, there are plenty of recovery resources for college students available.

More importantly, these resources make a difference, not just for those in need of them, but for college campuses at large, according to the data:

  • A 2011 paper in the Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice [1] concluded that “Several carefully conducted community initiatives aimed at alcohol problems among college-age persons are effective in reducing negative consequences related to drinking, including the incidence of underage drinking, alcohol-related assaults, emergency room visits, and alcohol-related crashes.”
  • A 2017 piece in the American Journal of College Health [2] concluded that college recovery programs “appear to meet their mission of allowing recovering students to pursue educational goals in ‘an abstinence hostile environment’ and emphasize the need for more institutions to address the support needs of students in recovery.”
  • Another Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice study, this one from 2020 [3], concluded that “Having more network connections was related to students having more months since relapse, suggesting social support within (college recovery communities) could facilitate longer-term sobriety for students in recovery.”
  • A 2016 report from the Center on Young Adult Health and Development, a subsidiary of the University of Maryland School of Public Health, pointed out [4] that “some experts believe that the benefits of a CRP (college recovery program) extend beyond its membership to the entire student body. A strong campus-based infrastructure of recovery support services might nudge some students toward abstinence and recovery if they are already contemplating it. Moreover, students in recovery are likely to have a positive influence on reducing their peers’ substance use, because their personal experiences represent authentic ‘cautionary tales’ that can ‘dispel the allure of abusive drinking.’”

So what are these recovery resources for college students, and how can those who need them access them? Let’s take a look.

Collegiate Recovery Resources: A History

recovery resources for college studentsDespite the lack of awareness in some circles about recovery resources for college students, sober programs at institutions of higher learning aren’t a new phenomenon. According to the website Collegiate Recovery — maintained by the Association of Recovery in Higher Education (ARHE), which bills itself as “the only association exclusively representing collegiate recovery programs (CRPs) and communities (CRCs), the faculty and staff who support them, and the students who represent them” [5] — one of the pioneers of the movement was Dr. Bruce Eliot Donovan. According to ARHE [6], “he started the first CRP at Brown University in 1977 after recovering from his own alcohol use disorder. He became the Dean of Chemical Dependency. Donovan helped students find 12-step meetings, provided individual support and academic counseling, and helped students find off-campus counseling. He served in this position until 2003.”

Prior to that, however, the Yale Center of Alcohol Studies was examining the drink habits of college students as far back as the 1950s. A 1953 article in the Harvard Crimson [7] detailed the findings of the 1952 report “Drinking in College,” which found that “drinking increases with each year in college. About 30 percent more senior women indulge than freshmen. It is important to remember, however, that the poll showed that about three-fourths of the drinkers had their first taste of alcohol before entering college, with a good number of these having been initiated before the age of 11.”

By the mid-1980s, according to a 2014 paper in the Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions [8], “a handful of universities started recognizing the need to provide support to college students in recovery from drug and alcohol use disorders as part of their broader effort to address substance use on college campus. These campus-based Collegiate Recovery Programs (CRPs) generally offered drug/alcohol-free housing, onsite recovery support meetings (e.g., Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous) and counseling provided by a small core staff.”

One of the first, the Center for College Recovery Communities at Texas Tech University [9], was established in 1986, the goal of which was offering “students in recovery a nurturing and supportive community, much like athlete and veteran students receive on college and university campuses.  This specialized recovery and academic support increases the chances that recovering students will flourish with strengthened recovery, personal and professional growth, and academic achievement, including retention in school, high GPAs and graduation rates.”

One of the most successful, according to the ARHE, opened in 1997 at Augsburg University, and the school’s “StepUP program and began offering housing in 1999. Their program is renowned for having the largest number of students in recovery housing and an average GPA of over 3.0 and 95 percent rate of abstinence among students.” As of December 2019, ARHE reports, “there are 138 CRPs across the US,” and the emphasis on sober support for students has expanded to include high schoolers as well, according to a 2006 paper by noted addiction researcher William White [10]: “A second thread in the rise of recovery schools was the development of recovery support services for high school students and then the development of high schools exclusively for students in recovery. The first wave of recovery high schools opened between 1987 and 1998.”

Recovery Resources for College Students: What Are They?

In 2020, Pascal Scoles, a professor of behavioral health and human services at the Community College of Philadelphia, laid out the necessary components [11] for a successful college recovery program. They must involve, he wrote for the Journal of Behavioral Health:

  • Hope;
  • A secure base and sense of self;
  • Supportive relationships;
  • Empowerment and inclusion;
  • Coping skills; and
  • A renewal of what it means to live a life of purpose.

Those foundation stones are necessary for the two types of people who will find themselves in need of recovery resources for college students: Those already in recovery, and those needing help to get sober.

Getting Sober in College

recovery resources for college studentsThe website College Drinking [12] — maintained by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism — is a comprehensive roundup of suggestions, tips and resources for those students who recognize they have a drinking problem and want to do something about it. (Side note: There’s also an entire section of the website dedicated to CollegeAIM [13], a tool for educators and administrators: “Developed by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) with leading college alcohol researchers and staff, CollegeAIM — the College Alcohol Intervention Matrix — is an easy-to-use and comprehensive booklet and website to help schools identify effective alcohol interventions.”)

There are a number of other organizations unaffiliated with any particular school, most of them nonprofit, that are set up to steer students in the right direction as well — like Start Your Recovery, which works with [14] “leading experts in effectively treating substance use issues to offer people a single source of relatable, reliable information at any stage of their recovery journey” and to provide “helpful information for people who are dealing with substance use issues — and their family members, friends, and co-workers, too.”

Other nonprofit addiction recovery organizations that can provide guidance, help and support at no cost (or public acknowledgement, for those who are concerned about their reputations) include:

  • Shatterproof, “a national nonprofit organization dedicated to ending the addiction crisis in the United States.”
  • The Herren Project, “a national nonprofit organization providing free resources and support for the treatment, recovery and prevention of substance use disorder.”
  • Natural High, “a drug prevention nonprofit that inspires and empowers youth to find their natural high and develop the skills and courage to live life well.”
  • To Write Love On Her Arms, “a non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and finding help for people struggling with depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide.”
  • The Foundation for Alcoholism Research, the mission of which is “to raise and distribute funds to perform research in the following areas: causes, identification, detection, prevention, treatment, and cure of/for Alcoholism.”

In addition, there are a number of self-help recovery programs that have meetings in cities around the country. While they’re not necessarily college-specific, they accept members of all ages, are free to attend, require no membership commitments and in many cases have long and distinguished histories of helping individuals with drug and alcohol problems. These include:

It’s important to understand that these aren’t the only self-help recovery programs out there. In fact, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of such programs that can provide recovery resources for college students. In addition, many colleges and universities offer on-campus support for those who need help for a drug and alcohol problem. The University of Tennessee, for example — the largest college in proximity to Cornerstone of Recovery — offers a host of resources for students who need assistance, or have been tasked with rehabilitation, through the Center for Health Education and Wellness [15].

However, there are individuals whose problems with drugs and alcohol are in need of attention beyond what an on-campus organization, or even a local self-help group, can provide. In these cases, such students may need drug and/or alcohol treatment, through a facility dedicated to such care. Those can be found through the recommendations of medical or counseling staff at their respective institutions, or through state and federal resources, such as:

It should be noted, however, that not all treatment facilities are created equal, and while financial considerations may limit the choices available to those who do need treatment, finding a facility that has a young adult treatment track can make a huge difference.

Recovery Resources for College Students: Staying Sober

Some of the aforementioned nonprofit recovery resources that can play a role in helping students get sober are also key tools to helping them stay sober. Organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and other programs, based on the 12 Step model of sobriety, have documented success rates: A 2020 study published by the Cochrane Library [16] found “high certainty evidence that clinically delivered and manualized (Twelve Step Facilitation, or TSF) programs designed to increase AA participation can lead to higher rates of continuous abstinence over months and years, when compared to other active treatment approaches such as cognitive behavioural therapy. The evidence suggests that 42% of participants participating in AA would remain completely abstinent one year later, compared to 35% of participants receiving other treatments including CBT. This effect is achieved largely by fostering increased AA participation beyond the end of the TSF program.”

As sobriety among young adults has grown in both scope and acceptance, the number of campuses that offer recovery-friendly options for housing and extracurricular activities has increased as well. There’s strength in numbers, experts point out, and the strongest method of ensuring sobriety in a college setting is by finding a community of sober peers. Twelve Step groups are a way to do that, but many colleges and universities offer recovery resources for college students in the form of organizations, clubs and other non-academic pursuits.

recovery resources for college studentsIn addition, the ARHE maintains an up-to-date listing of recovery resources [17], from a comprehensive list of support organizations and college-related organizations and training tools that can not only provide recovery support for students, but allow them to take the initiative in establishing a college recovery program on campus that may be affiliated with the ARHE.

And of course, there are a number of individual campus recovery resources for college students that can be taken advantage of. Many colleges and universities — Blount County’s own Maryville College, for example [18] — dedicate pages of their websites to emphasize the nature of care available to students in a variety of situations, substance abuse among them.

Recovery resources for college students are not as plentiful, however, as the opportunity for college students to indulge in drugs and alcohol — and the onus for changing that rests at the administrative level, according to a 2019 piece in the publication Inside Higher Ed [19]: “Students with drug or alcohol problems are more likely to be ignored or overlooked on campus, where the focus of student support programs are ‘on maintaining and mitigating the damages of the college experience’ and not on ‘creating a place within higher education for this marginalized population,’ (ARHE) says on its website.

“While other groups of classically marginalized populations have begun to find a foothold and support within the university settings (e.g., LGBTQ, gender equality, ethnic identities), those in recovery have largely been left out in the cold due to the fact that their needs run counter to the dominant narrative of the college world.”

Recovery Resources for College Students: More Is Needed

It should be pointed out that those recovery resources for college students who want to get sober and stay sober do exist — but short of scouring an institution’s website or finding a university-affiliated college recovery program, those resources are, in many cases, scarce.

But, experts say, they shouldn’t be: According to the publication “Substance Abuse Recovery in College,” a Springer publication [20] that details both the successes and the needs for college recovery communities, “colleges can play an active role in protecting the abstinence of those in substance abuse recovery. In doing so, colleges can not only provide access to education for those who are challenged by addictions, but also demonstrate to all their students that college life is not synonymous with substance abuse. Colleges and universities can do this by establishing collegiate recovery communities. Without these communities, it will be difficult for the growing numbers of young men and women in recovery to complete their educations, without which they will be less able to build successful and stable careers.”

Administrators may not know where to start, but researchers in a 2018 paper for the journal Addiction Research and Theory [21] suggest starting small: “The results suggest the need to for college campuses, both in the US and abroad, to conduct assessments of the perceived need for recovery support services among students. While substance abuse services may be available, students may not feel they are adequate to support their unique needs as both as a student and in recovery from (substance use disorders).”

There should be, and there can be, a balance struck between the Mr. Mackey “drugs are bad, mkay?” style of abstinence-only discourse and the wink-and-nod tacit acceptance of college as a repository for “all in good fun” debauchery. Finding that balance is critical to serving the needs of an at-risk population whose sobriety isn’t just a lifestyle choice; it’s a matter of personal safety, future security and peace of mind.























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