This post was originally published on July 1, 2014.
For young addicts who’ve managed to get a bit of clean time under their belt, getting an education often seems like the next step toward being a functional member of society. Yet as many of us old folks know, just the word “college” can conjure up the smell of cheap beer and the crunch of red Solo cups underfoot. Are sobriety and college mutually exclusive?
Finding Co-ed Fellows
They’re certainly not any more at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. For the past two years, UNLV students who are in recovery have had the opportunity to attend NRAP meetings (that’s the Nevada Recovery and Prevention Community) to share their experiences with addiction and sobriety. Many of these students are also active members of local 12-step fellowships. Some of them first came to recovery through court-ordered rehab, while others had spent time in private treatment. Some are older than the traditional student body because their substance abuse had interfered with their educational path. Others came to college straight out of high school but found their habits became unmanageable under the academic and social pressures of university life. Regardless of age or background, the members of the UNLV group say that the NRAP meetings have created a group of “automatic friends” on campus—none of whom will pressure you into a keg stand.
Nevada’s Getting Proactive
NRAP meetings came to UNLV through their campus chapter of HYPER (Helping Young People Experience Recovery), a special initiative begun in 2011 by the Nevada-based Foundation For Recovery. While that may be a whole lot of acronyms to swallow, it’s also a whole lot of help. Though the Foundation is not affiliated with any 12-step groups, it provides meeting spaces and peer support specialist training. It also has created educational presentations for school administrators and for parents. Nevada has some of the highest substance abuse rates in the country for teenagers, and the 24-hour temptation of Vegas speaks for itself. It’s hard to imagine a place where these college groups could do more good.
Other Colleges Helping the Recovery Effort
And UNLV isn’t the only college that is incorporating recovery into its campus offerings. Across America, versions of the Collegiate Recovery Community (an agreed-upon moniker for the age of SEO) are cropping up at more and more schools. The Association of Recovery in Higher Education, which recently held its fifth annual conference, is an alliance of colleges that provide dedicated support for students recovering from drug and alcohol addiction. Although the list of member colleges is relatively small so far, it does include several prominent schools like Vanderbilt, the University of Texas at Austin, and two University of California campuses. Some, like the University of Michigan, even provide special recovery housing that is distinct from the regular substance-free dorm.
This is a sea change for colleges, which traditionally have pumped resources into substance abuse prevention programs while offering little for their students who have already been there, done that. While substance abuse counseling is often available at university health centers, therapy still carries a stigma and a power dynamic that a student-run group does not. Providing an official program for students in recovery shows those students that the school has their back and helps alleviate the feelings of “being different” that many of them may have when they arrive on campus. As colleges struggle to market themselves to the next generation, ideally this policy of attraction will catch on quickly.