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How To Start a College Alcohol Drug Recovery Program

Successful college recovery programs suggest the following assets to fully support students during their recovery, according to the 2015 Collegiate Recovery Asset Survey. Although people in recovery learn to manage various mental and emotional problems, college students have additional stress. According to Betty Ford, “Today, there are approximately 100 collegiate recovery programs across the United States (Association of Recovery in Higher Education, 2017).

Getting Started

Critical to implementing college recovery programs is the ability of the college to offer one-on-one support. For example, a student in recovery needs a full-time mentor/support who can devote most of their time to providing the student with the encouragement they need. Also, these mentors should be dedicated advocates for recovering students and preferably hold some influence at the college and in the community.

Attend support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and others near a college campus to make them accessible to students. In addition, an auditorium, classroom, or private, sectioned-off area needs to serve as a meeting space where students in recovery can socialize and engage in sober activities (dinners, dances going to the movies, etc.).

The 2015 CRAS recommends college recovery programs further strengthen programs by incorporating the following assets:

  • Protective housing for students in recovery (by protective, the CRAS means making sober housing with sober people available to students)
  • Institute periodic fundraising activities and grant writing efforts
  • Offer the chance for students completing their recovery program to work as mentors for incoming students with addiction issues.
  • Train students not in recovery to identify mental health problems and possible signs of addiction in other students.
  • Train individuals to help recovering students improve self-confidence, social and life skills, manage their time, and cope with college life.
  • Team with college departments and organizations can help students recover with food, shelter, and other basic needs and medical and psychological needs.

Sustaining Communities

Results of the Collegiate Recovery Survey suggests the following assets contribute significantly to sustaining student recovery programs:

  • Have university departments get heavily involved in supporting continuing research regarding the disease of addiction and evidence-based recovery programs
  • Have relevant departments offer courses on drug addiction, alcoholism, eating disorders, and behavioral addictions (Internet, gambling, sex) for actual course credit
  • Enlist the aid of addiction counselors, psychiatrists, and other addiction professionals for providing recovering students with information, treatment, and referrals
  • Make free or low-cost legal assistance available to students in recovery who have upcoming court cases or are interested in having their record expunged
  • Seek out non-profit organizations that can offer grants, scholarships, and other forms of financial assistance for students in recovery who have limited resources

The Association of Recovery in Higher Education also provides additional information about U.S. colleges and universities with recovery programs already established on campus.

For students dealing with a history of substance abuse, going off to college is a risky step. However, that first taste of independence, beyond the reach of family and friends, is exhilarating and sometimes overwhelming because campus life is more than just a busy class schedule. It’s a world where drugs and alcohol are not just readily available; they’re the social norm.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, more than 50 percent of students, aged 18 to 22, are regular drinkers. Also, nearly 40 percent of that group are binge drinkers (those consuming five or more drinks in one sitting). The consequences of college-aged drinking are stark. Researchers estimate that each year, the student population experiences:

  • More than 1,800 deaths from alcohol-related accidents, such as car crashes or unintentional injury
  • Almost 700,000 cases of physical assault by another student that’s consumed alcohol
  • 97,000 incidents of sexual assault or date rape involving alcohol
  • 25 percent see their academic performance falter due to alcohol-related absences, problems focusing, and failing exams and papers
  • Around 20 percent of students meet the criteria alcohol use disorder

College Recovery Programs and Collegiate Recovery Communities began around the late 70s, reports the Association of Recovery in Higher Education. Initially popping up at Brown University, Rutgers, and Texas Tech, there are now nearly 200 recovery communities on college campuses across the country. With more awareness of college drinking and the success these programs experience, demand has spiked. University officials have noticed, and many colleges even market their programs to students who previously received alcohol and drug abuse treatment.

“We ran a recovery group right from the start,” Lisa Laitman, director of the Alcohol and Other Drug Assistance Program at Rutgers University, tells the ARHE. “We had four students. They wanted to meet other students to create a bond while on campus. It’s the same reason for all CRPs. Students want a peer group.”

Laitman started the Rutgers program, a pioneer in campus recovery – the first of its kind – 31 years ago. It boasts a success rate of 90 percent. The objective is to help students maintain a sober lifestyle. Though they vary from institution to institution, colleges provide everything from straight outings and social activities to one-on-one sessions with a counselor, mentorships with older, more experienced peers, and sober roommates. Rutgers and several other universities even offer alcohol and drug-free housing.

  • “The parents are the ones who appreciate recovery housing. They understand the need for their children to have a supportive living community,”

With a similar mission, Transforming Youth Recovery’s approach is “To find what’s working – and do more of it, more often, in more places.” The not-for-profit organization launched a grant program, in 2013, for colleges. It provides financial assistance for universities establishing or expanding their recovery support programs. To date, the organization’s sponsored 100 grants to universities across the country and helped increase the total number of recovery programs from 35 to 200.

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