More Colleges Catering To Students In Recovery, Setting Them Up For Success

By Victoria Kim 06/17/16

On-campus recovery programs offer students dealing with substance use issues a sober safe haven with various treatment options.

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More Colleges Catering To Students In Recovery, Setting Them Up For Success

In 1988, Rutgers University in New Jersey introduced its Recovery Housing program, offering students in recovery on-campus housing where they can escape the rites of booze-fueled college life.

Since then, more colleges across the U.S. have followed suit. And in light of the epidemic of opiate addiction that’s affecting communities all over the country, these kind of recovery support services are more needed than ever.

The Rutgers Recovery Housing program offers easy access to resources like counseling, the school’s drug assistance program, psychiatric and medical services, and campus 12-step meetings. In addition, Recovery Housing students are encouraged to participate in social activities specific to the program, like hikes, bike trips, and sporting events. Each student is expected to have a sponsor and attend at least two 12-step meetings per week, according to the school’s website. And incoming students are required to have been sober for at least 90 days before entering Recovery Housing.

“Our students really flourish in this environment,” Lisa Laitman, who was instrumental in establishing sober dorms at Rutgers, told PBS. “It really is a social experiment where you can put people who are in recovery on a college campus. As long as you can provide them with friends and a place that’s safe and a certain amount of activity, they do really well.”

Laitman, who was hired as director of Rutgers’ Alcohol and other Drug Assistance Program in 1983, said many students transfer to Rutgers because of its recovery resources. Sober dorms in particular are important, she says, for students trying to stay clean. “[Before the Recovery Housing program] my students in recovery were living in regular dorms and they didn’t have any support,” Laitman told PBS. “They felt really isolated and alone.”

These substance-free dorms really “get to the heart of the beast,” Dr. Robert DuPont, a psychiatrist who served as the second U.S. Drug Czar in the ‘70s, told PBS. The traditional college environment promotes, and even glorifies, (potentially) addictive behaviors like binge drinking and drug experimentation. “You’re surrounded by people who are using alcohol and drugs in addictive ways,” said DuPont, who now heads the Institute for Behavioral Health, a drug policy think tank. “Someone else is paying the bills and there’s no supervision.”

“Ryan,” a Rutgers graduate, says the school’s sober dorms and recovery services were the key to successfully getting through his college education. The now 25-year-old had tried and failed at five colleges before he got to Rutgers, where he graduated cum laude in May.

“It was a safe space with people who were trying to do what I was trying to do,” Ryan told PBS. “No one was talking about going out and getting drunk. It was the antithesis of my previous dorm experiences, where the shackles are off and people go crazy.”

Last year, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a law mandating state colleges and universities to provide a sober housing option if at least a quarter of the student body lives on campus.

Elsewhere in the U.S., more schools are embracing the concept. A few recent examples include the University of Vermont, which established sober housing in 2010; Texas Tech University, which did the same in 2011; and Oregon State University, which will begin offering sober housing in the fall.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr