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Collegiate Recovery, a Better Path for Students in Recovery

Abby Foster
| August 31, 2017

Submitted by: Abby Foster

What images pop into your mind when you think of college? Perhaps it is friends, sporting events, lecture halls, dorms, or pizza. What about parties, excessive drinking, and maybe even substance use?

Although college students may not be experimenting with drugs or alcohol for the first time, many experience increased freedom on campus and also reach the legal drinking age during that time. Because of these factors, the college environment can be considered a hostile environment for a young person in recovery. That was my personal experience during my early years of undergrad. But, thanks to the growing number of collegiate recovery programs (CRPs) some college campuses are creating a culture that embraces recovery and empowers their students in recovery and to seek recovery.

National estimates suggest that one in five college students have a substance use disorder. One in four say drinking has hampered their studies. This was certainly true in my case. The quantitative evidence is easily seen when looking at my overall GPA record. It is easy to identify the periods when I was in recovery and when I had returned to use. My GPA was only one of the many parts of my life to suffer as a direct result of my addiction.

Many students in recovery have found recovery can be tricky in a culture where lifelong friendships are often built at bars, sorority or fraternity socials, house parties, or pre-gaming at a tailgate. I didn’t want to miss out on what I viewed as the traditional college experience. I wanted to fit in and feel like I belonged.

Other than counseling services, which (let’s be honest) provides support but no sense of community, I had no resources on campus to support my recovery. Do I blame my return to use on that? Of course not. But it does make me wonder if my college experience could have been less arduous if I had attended a school with a collegiate recovery program? I believe so and here is why.

While overcoming addiction is the first part of the journey, recovery continues after treatment. Colleges and universities provide resources to help students achieve their academic goals during their recovery journey. A collegiate recovery program or community provides students in recovery with a safe, supportive environment on their college campus.

Each CRP/CRC is different, tailored to the needs of their college population and culture. Programs typically have a physical space for recovering students to use for support meetings and socializing. All programs share the same main objective: supporting the student in higher education. You can earn a college degree and have a fulfilling college experience while maintaining recovery from addiction.

On July 11-13, 2017, I attended the 8th National Collegiate Recovery Conference/ 16th National ARS Conference. This event brought together two leading recovery organizations: the Association of Recovery in Higher Education (ARHE) and Association of Recovery Schools (ARS). The ARHE is a nonprofit organization representing collegiate recovery programs across the county. The ARS is a nonprofit organization made up of recovery high schools and supporters of the recovery high school movement.

This three-day event had over 700 attendees and represented over 100 different schools across the country. Students, alumni, staff, treatment professionals, families, allies, advocates, and policy makers were in attendance. The conference offered tracks including research, students, families, treatment, diversity, collegiate recovery, and recovery high schools. Beyond the valuable knowledge I gained, I also collected stories of students in recovery who felt their CRCs were an intricate part of their success in pursuing higher education while in recovery. Every student deserves a chance to succeed and CRPs make that possible.

If you would like to share your story with Heroes in Recovery you can contact me at abby@heroesinrecovery.com. By sharing your story, you inspire others to break the stigma associated with substance use and mental health issues.

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