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Sober By Degrees – College Recovery Programs

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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