Story by Patti Verbanas
Growing up in an affluent Birmingham suburb, Jeanne (not her real name) worked hard to earn As and Bs at her high school with the assistance of prescriptions to manage ADD and ADHD symptoms.
The college-bound student had her sights on the University of Alabama. Upon arriving, she joined a well-known sorority and found herself caught up in the excitement of campus living and Greek life. “It gave me a community and became my family away from home,” she says.
After Jeanne arrived, though, she noticed a number of her fellow students were taking the same prescription she was. “Prescription drug use (Adderall and Xanax for example), along with alcohol and other substance use, was everywhere,” she says. “It was a real eye-opener. Students were taking the medicines I was using to function in school to enhance their social life. Prescriptions were part of the party.”
Soon, Jeanne started to use prescription drugs socially as well, abusing her own medications and obtaining pills from other students.
Although her parents suspected that something was amiss, Jeanne became adept at deflecting questions. When she was home on breaks, they would question her about her prescriptions and recommend she see a therapist. “They were concerned about the medicines I was taking but they didn’t know just how many pills I was popping,” she says. “I would always talk my way out of it, assuring them that there was really nothing wrong.”
By junior year, the once-A student had plummeted to being a C student. Jeanne’s parents started counting her pills and realized she was abusing her prescriptions. She entered treatment and moved into a sober living community to help her manage her new life in recovery. While her parents felt a sense of relief in the revelation that they finally learned the source of their unease and knew that Jeanne was where she needed to be, a new sense of discomfort emerged: Would Jeanne be able to return to school to finish her degree and remain in recovery? It had been a year since she entered treatment and as a senior she would lose too many credits transferring to another university. She had to return to where her addiction began.
Drug and alcohol abuse help most parents don’t even know about
Then, the family discovered the university’s Collegiate Recovery Community. Jeanne’s parents agreed that she could return, but only if she joined the CRC. “I was wary — I just wanted to finish school and leave — but the CRC provided me with a sense of belonging and accountability,” she says. “My grades significantly improved. It’s amazing to think that I was able to finish my degree at the same school where my addiction began.”
The University of Alabama is on the forefront of helping students like Jeanne who seek a sober life have a second chance at higher education by providing programming along a wide continuum of care. For parents who never suspected their child would abuse substances when they left for college, it’s a safety net, a community where there is accountability for their recovery and professional assistance to help their child gain the skills to stay sober in college and beyond.
The CRC, which was launched in 2012, adheres to the standard requirement of other CRCs that members are sober for one year — a safeguard to maintain the integrity of the community of students in long-term recovery. But what about those students who know they have a problem but haven’t yet committed to a life of sobriety? Do they have anywhere to turn?
“The Alabama Model,” launched in 2017, provides options for students at various stages of substance abuse recovery — whether it is their first day or the first year. Thus, if a parent discovers their child is starting to abuse substances, they know there is somewhere for the child to go on campus to seek continuous help without waiting for a year of sobriety.
These early-recovery students become part of FORGE, a provisional CRC membership in which staff members help students explore recovery and develop the relationships and skills necessary to become full CRC members. When students express interest in the CRC, a certified addiction counselor starts them in FORGE to assess their proper place based on their stage of recovery. The program gives these students the motivation they need to get to the crucial next level.
Students who are determined by clinicians as needing the highest level of care are placed in the University Campus Drug Court Program. Housed in the Office of Student Conduct, this program defers suspension due to a drug- or alcohol-related non-violent offense. It is recognized by the state of Alabama and others around the country as a certified drug court program and allows students both in and out of state to remain enrolled in school while they address both their substance and legal issues through counseling services. The students visit a judge once a week for testing; if they fail, they are removed from the program.
All members of the CRC, regardless of their length of sobriety prior to joining, must go through this one-year prospective membership before being considered full-time. The CRC is 12 Step–based. All members must complete a 12-Step program or something similar prior to receiving full-time status. The goal is to advance the provisional student members to full status if they are ready and willing. Counselors work with prospective members on their recovery plan, which also can include goals such as academics and relationship building. To further weave prospective members into the CRC, counselors pair them with a full-time member who serves as a mentor. The result is a supportive, clinician- and peer-driven program that gives young adults at risk the tools they need to stay sober and earn their degree.
For more information on the University of Alabama’s Collegiate Recovery and Intervention Services (CRIS), visit cris.sa.ua.edu.
Out of Darkness, Parents Create a Ray of Hope
When Suzanne and Trent Boozer noticed their son was struggling with substance use at the University of Alabama several years ago, they began researching treatment facilities. He had battled depression and had been known to use alcohol while in high school, but the couple had a gut feeling his substance use had gotten beyond his control once he left home. Although they wished he could continue on with school and graduate on time, the Mountain Brook couple made the difficult decision to send him to a treatment center at the end of his junior year.
After this treatment, he transitioned to a sober living community in South Florida, where he started thinking about returning to college. However, he and his parents knew that he could not return to Alabama, which at the time did not have any program to provide support for students in recovery. A friend told him about the Center for the Study of Addiction and Recovery at Texas Tech, which, in 2010, was one of the few universities that supported students in recovery with licensed counselors, academic support, a dedicated building and other supports. He enrolled, made straight-As and graduated two-and-a-half years later.
Seeing the power of the collegiate recovery community and wanting to spread the word, Trent reached out to The Association of Recovery in Higher Education with an idea of starting a magazine that promoted campus recovery efforts nationwide.
Recovery Campus, ( http://recoverycampus.com) endorsed by the ARHE, launched in 2013. Its mission: to raise the awareness of campus recovery communities nationwide and cover all aspects of collegiate recovery from treatment through the entire collegiate recovery experience. In doing so it provides hope to parents and their young adults with substance use, mental health and other disorders.
“The magic of collegiate recovery programs is peer support — and there is a school in every part of our country that young adults can find to help them earn their degrees in a safe environment,” Trent says. “We want to let these students know that no matter what geographic location they want to go, there is a school to support them.”
“The opposite of addiction is connection. If you are around like-minded people every day who are challenging you to make good grades and live a healthy life, you develop good habits — you exercise, study, eat well. Your peers will not let you fail. This sense of connection and gratitude keep students in recovery moving in the right direction. And leaders emerge from every class.” As Trent says, “the biggest misconception is that college kids can’t have fun and enjoy a full happy life without drugs and alcohol. The opposite is true.” Most people in sobriety live a life of peace and self-understanding that is almost foreign to those in the grips of even minor drug and alcohol abuse.
Auburn Recovery Community
UA is not alone in offering a place for students seeking recover from addiction. Auburn also provides a Collegiate Recovery Community (CRC).
According to the Auburn Recovery Community (ARC), “The main issue facing the collegiate recovery population is a lack of peer support. Adolescents and young adults seeking a college education must attempt to navigate the collegiate environment on their own, often without the support of even a small group of their peers.”
The ARC addresses these issues and provides a place for students in recovery to participate in a continuing care program. With a nurturing and affirming environment, individuals recovering from addictive disorders can find peer support while attaining a college education through the ARC. For help, firstname.lastname@example.org. http://wp.auburn.edu/healthandwellness/recovery/