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On-Campus Recovery Housing – Does it Help Students Stay Sober?

Take a segment of the population prone to poor impulse control and judgment, who, biologically, are at the peak of risk-taking and pleasure-seeking behavior, put them all in one place – welcome to college.

On Campus Recovery Housing

Life on most college campuses includes a vibrant party culture where alcohol and drugs are easily accessible. For students in recovery, though, going off to university can act as one giant trigger for relapse.

On-campus recovery housing offers services, activities, and a community to students recovering from addiction to drugs and alcohol. The first on-campus residential recovery program started at Rutgers University New Brunswick in 1988.

But only in the last several years have a greater number of public and private colleges offered recovery housing and programs.

“There’s a big difference between a substance-free and a recovery option,” Mary Jo Desprez, told The New York Times. Director of residential life at the University of Michigan, Desprez is referring to “wellness” or “substance-free” dorms available on many campuses since the early 1990s. “A recovery room,” says Desprez, “is for students who are actively pursuing staying sober.”

What Does SAMHSA Report About the Party Habits of College Students?

The party-hard “Animal House” lifestyle at some colleges is alive and well according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). In a survey released this month, the agency reported:

  • Full-time college students aged 18 to 22 were more likely in the last month to have drank alcohol, engaged in binge drinking and to have used to cocaine than their peers who were not fulltime college students
  • On the flipside, full-time college students were less likely to have used heroin or smoked cigarettes than same-age adults not in college
  • The survey showed little to no difference between the two groups when it came to marijuana use

Does On-Campus Recovery Housing Work?

The evidence suggests that on-campus recovery housing overall is incredibly successful. Relapse is a common symptom of addiction, but schools with established programs, like Texas Tech, Augsberg and Rutgers, report sobriety rates of around 95 percent and grade point averages of 3.0 or higher. The universities also see a benefit in lower healthcare and property damage costs.

Recovery programs, though, do not always have students knocking down the door to participate. The College of New Jersey launched substance-free quarters last school year, dubbed Lion House, and exactly one student opted to live there. Not exactly the thriving community Christopher Freeman, who runs the collegiate recovery program at TCNJ, envisioned.

Surveys revealed that 4 percent of the population, about 280 students, on-campus identified as being in recovery, but, as Freeman told, the college discovered that offering recovery housing without establishing recovery community just wasn’t effective.

“We opened up the door,” says Freeman, “and we thought they would come flooding in. It didn’t happen that way.”

Still, residential recovery programs on-campus are a positive step in the right direction. They help students that need it maintain their sobriety and get an education in a supportive atmosphere. They go a long way in removing the stigma surrounding issues of substance abuse and addiction.

The Association of Recovery Schools, a nonprofit organization, even offers an accreditation program so schools are able to implement “research-based best practices and strategies to improve the quality of educational and recovery services.”


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