February 26, 2020

Sober Dorms for College Students in Recovery

Sober dorms may just be the newest “best” thing going on right now on college campuses

Alcohol abuse is a major problem at universities across the country. College is a time when many students regularly use intoxicants – ESPECIALLY alcohol. They do this for a number of reasons:

  • Freedom from parental supervision
  • Separation anxiety
  • Academic struggles
  • Peer pressure
  • Permissive attitudes about substance use

In fact, an estimated 30% of students in college meet the standard for a diagnosis of a Substance Use Disorder (SUD). Just at your local college, that is potentially TENS OF THOUSANDS of young adults in need. Unfortunately, these students often don’t know where they can turn to get help,

But here’s the thing – even when they try to embrace society, campus life can be challenging. There is a shortage of activities, support, and services available for students in recovery. Typical aspects of student life – football games, parties, mixers, holidays – can feel overwhelming due to presence of drugs and/or alcohol.

While other once-under-represented student populations – LGBTQ, ethnic groups, gender equality, etc. – now have on-campus support and resources, the same usually isn’t true for students in recovery committed to maintaining their sobriety.

Some colleges worry about the presence of students in recovery on the campus because they mistakenly equate recovery with active substance abuse – crime, social problems, etc.

However, a positive new movement is going on, in the form of Collegiate Recovery Programs (CRPs). These school-sponsored programs offer students in recovery much-needed support that helps them avoid stressful temptation. By fostering an environment supportive of sobriety – a collegiate recovery community (CRC) – participating colleges aid students in staying sober AND in school.

How Big Is the Problem of Alcohol Abuse in College?

“Parents should be encouraged to have open discussions about alcohol and marijuana with their children before they go off to college.”

~ Dr. Mark Olfson, Columbia University

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that over ONE MILLION college students drink alcohol.

  • Nearly two-thirds of 18-22-year-old college students self-report past-month alcohol use.
  • 41% have been drunk.
  • One-third have engaged in binge-drinking in the last two weeks.

Alcohol abuse in college is also dangerous, annually associated with:

  • More than 1800 deaths
  • Almost 700,000 violent assaults
  • Nearly 100,000 sexual assaults

Robert DuPont, who heads the Institute for Behavior and Health and who also served as the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse from 1973 to 1978, says, “you’re surrounded by people who are using alcohol and drugs in addictive ways. Someone else is paying the bills, and there’s no supervision.”

What Kind of Collegiate Recovery Programs Are in Place?

College life isn’t particularly supportive of alcohol and drug abstinence. It’s even harder for students in recovery from past addictive disorders.

Substance use is often normalized on college campuses. Incoming students might have entered recovery before going to college, or are trying to return to college after seeking treatment, and are very nervous about coming back to the same environment they left. It can be very overwhelming,” says Kelsey Otten, the Prevention Coordinator for the University of Kentucky.

CRCs help individual students in recovery, but they also benefit the entire school. Colleges have both an obligation and a vested interest to provide a campus experience that is as supportive, safe, and welcoming as possible.

The CRC provides that safe environment where they can be themselves and be surrounded by like-minded individuals,” continued Otten.

CRPs might offer:

  • Mental health therapy
  • Addiction counseling
  • Peer support groups
  • Academic coaching, tutoring, and study groups
  • Professional networking, mentoring, and development
  • Mindfulness meditation classes
  • Regular social dinners
  • Community holiday observances
  • Sober social activities

Just 5 short years ago, only 35 schools had a CRP. Today, there are over 150.

CRPs – A Good Idea in Action

University of Alabama at Birmingham recently held its second annual Sober Spring Break, an whole week of sober activities and events giving participating students an alternative to the typical alcohol-fueled debauchery often associated with Spring Break.

“Spring break is a triggering time for most college students in recovery. We want to give them an opportunity to have fun sober,” said Luciana Silva, Program Manager for the University’s CRP.

  • Kayaking
  • Wall climbing
  • Equine therapy
  • A community cookout—INCLUDING patients and staff from the local rehab facility.

“It’s important that students who have made a commitment to sobriety forge a connection with the larger recovery community. It is also a way to give back to the community that has helped them so much,” explained Silva.

Sober Dorms – Safety and Support

There are currently about 50 campuses with CRP programs that also offer dedicated on-campus sober housing. The purpose is to give students in recovery a “substance-free zone” to live in —no drugs or alcohol allowed. In this small sober community, the students can also provide peer support for each other.

College students committed to a sober lifestyle need that mutual support from one another – and from the larger community of the university as a whole – if they want to both stay physically, mentally, and academically healthy.

Some colleges even permit CRC students to reside in these sober dorms year-round. This grants those students a great sense of stability nd continuity, allowing them to better focus on their schoolwork and their recovery.

Before sober dorms, recovering students had to go back to residence halls where rampant “partying”—binge-drinking and drug use—occurred on a nightly basis.

One of the earliest lessons people in recovery learn is to the necessity of avoiding the people who can trigger addictive behaviors. But it’s not very realistic for a college student to completely avoid their own dormitory.

One University of Kentucky student said, “It was hard to be around certain friend groups or in certain locations after coming back to college in recovery. I had to be more aware of what situations I was putting myself in.”

Avoiding the Triggers of Loneliness and Boredom

CRC activities ensure that students in recovery feel socially included and enjoy an authentic “college experience”. Being active socially helps alleviate loneliness and boredom, both of which can lead to relapse.

The afore-mentioned UK student also touched on this, saying, “Being able to relate to other young people makes you feel less alone, like you aren’t the only student on campus that doesn’t drink.”

The Director of Rutgers University’s Alcohol and Other Drug Assistance Program, Lisa Laitman, says, “Our students really flourish in this environment. 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.”

The Future of Sober Dorms

The national attention on the opioid epidemic also means that universities and colleges are looking at ways to reduce student substance abuse. Sober dorms can be one of the solutions

Per the Association of Recovery in Higher Education, 95% of college students with access to CRPs avoid relapse. To put that rate in perspective, the general population’s relapse rate is as high as 60%.

In 2015, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey signed a law requiring every state-run school to offer sober housing if at least 25% of its students live on campus.

If you want to know if your college choices offer sober dorms, contact the school’s Housing Department directly.

Teensavers Treatment Centers support any initiatives that support recovery efforts. If you know a young person who needs help for a substance abuse, emotional, or behavioral problem, Teensavers is the most-trusted rehab program in Southern California.

Teensavers—“Transforming lives…”

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