New book explores benefits of collegiate alcohol recovery communities

Breaking an alcohol addiction is always a challenge, but the dependency may be even more difficult to escape for a young adult at college. "Substance Abuse Recovery in College: Community Supported Abstinence," a new book edited and co-authored by H. Harrington “Bo” Cleveland, associate professor of human development and family studies, explores one successful method for facilitating recovery in college students: alcohol recovery campuses. The book, which focuses on the oldest and largest collegiate recovery community in the United States (at Texas Tech University), outlines how and why recovery communities work and how one could be set up in a college setting.

The number of college-age or pre-college-age individuals enrolling in alcohol recovery programs is rising rapidly. The authors cite a study by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services and Administration that showed that adolescents entering treatment rose 65 percent from 1993 to 2003, while the population as a whole only rose 23 percent for that time period. Additionally, SAMHSA estimates that 1.5 million adolescents age 12-17 are misusing or dependent on alcohol. These numbers indicate the need for effective recovery programs on college campuses.

“The college environment is flooded with alcohol and drugs, and a student who wishes to abstain must swim against the tide,” write the authors. Some students recovering from alcohol addiction may isolate themselves to avoid potential relapse triggers. Isolation, however, commonly leads to relapse; many recovery programs rely on social support -- taking people out of isolation -- for their success.

“Recovery is more than not using. It requires that individuals engage in society in productive and balanced ways,” write the authors.

The Center for the Study of Addiction and Recovery (CSAR) at Texas Tech University -- the focus of "Substance Abuse Recovery in College" -- facilitates social connections through many ways, such as a structured tutoring system. Tutoring not only helps recovering alcoholics “avoid low self-esteem and poor self-confidence associated with academic difficulties that could otherwise threaten the stability of these young adults’ recoveries” but it gives them a chance to “witness the positive effect they can have on another’s life,” write the authors.

The CSAR at Texas Tech also includes a structured recovery community. Members of this community regularly participate in activities as a group, such as a seminar class, weekly support meetings, and service-learning activities. Additionally, the community provides financial scholarships to its participants based on grade-point average, which provides incentives for academic success.

The benefits of this type of recovery program are unmatched. Less than 5 percent of the recovery community members relapse each semester at Texas Tech. The majority of people who go through rehab, perhaps as much as 70 percent  relapse within the first year. The success of this program has led several other universities around the country to adopt recovery programs using Texas Tech’s as their model.

Communities of recovering addicted persons build connections in part through sharing personal stories, which is the model for many twelve-step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. But, the authors note, most AA and NA programs around the country focus on middle-aged adults, and differences between middle-aged and young adults in recovery pose barriers to developing the necessary sense of fellowship and security that recovery relies on. Drinking and drug use as an adolescent can cause emotional and psychological delays, which sets the two groups apart, in addition to the age difference.

Colleges, however, are in a position to provide excellent support for recovering alcoholic students.

“By developing recovery communities, colleges and universities can provide safe havens from the drinking and drug abuse” that exist at many colleges, the authors write. “A primary reward that the community can offer is a sense of belonging. Like members of all groups, it is possible for members of recovery communities to achieve a sense of belonging and connectedness to the community regardless of other differences between them.”

Before coming to Penn State in 2007, Cleveland spent four years on the faculty at Texas Tech, where he worked with staff and students involved in the CSAR. Co-authors of the book include Kitty Harris, director of the CSAR, and Richard Wiebe of Fitchburg State College. The book, published by Springer, is available through Springer’s Web site.

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Last Updated October 04, 2010