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5 Ways to Support Your College Student’s Recovery

“Hello party people at IU! Classes have started and so has the disease of addiction!” So read a dire warning from the “Students in Recovery” Twitter account at Indiana University (IU). “Follow us and tell your friends to spread the word,” it continued.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, almost 60% of college students reported drinking alcohol in the past month and almost 40% reported binge drinking in the past 30 days. One-quarter of college students said they’ve missed classes, fallen behind or received lower grades due to alcohol misuse.

Those statistics aren’t lost on university officials, perhaps with the exception of the 21 schools that now sell alcohol at campus sporting events. The University of Cincinnati even ups the party atmosphere by offering green beer on St. Patrick’s Day.

Schools Step Up

But many schools are doing more than ever before to discourage heavy drinking on campus. While most have initiatives designed to educate students about alcohol and drug abuse and to inform them about campus resources, some 135 schools have now implemented collegiate recovery programs (CRPs) to support young people in recovery. That’s up from just 10 a decade ago.

At campuses such as Texas Tech, Rutgers University and Augsburg College in Minneapolis, students in recovery have access to substance-free dormitories or floors reserved just for them, sober tailgates, dance parties, outings and study groups. Students in the University of Michigan’s CRP can choose a sober roommate from the campus life website. And even better, in New Jersey, students will soon have sober housing mandated by law.

“Staying sober on a college campus would be really hard, especially since most people are pretty new in sobriety, so if you think about it, it would be really different than somebody that has 10 years (of sobriety) and going to a new job,” Mary Jo Desprez, who started Michigan’s program, told The Michigan Daily.  “Most people in college are pretty new in recovery and coming into a culture surrounded by parties,” she said.

How You Can Help

While more colleges and universities are doing their part to help students maintain their sobriety, sustained recovery requires strong backing from friends and family. Here are five ways to support college students:

  1. Be informed. If the college or town has informational meetings about substance abuse among young people, show up. Listen to other people recovering from addiction speak.
  2. Provide a ride. Support the student in sticking with their continuing care plan. If that involves attending counseling sessions or a support group, help arrange transportation. If you can provide a ride, do so. CRPs offer youths a safe place to attend school, but they aren’t rehab. Your loved one might still need to attend sessions off-campus.
  3. Listen effectively. Providing a sympathetic ear lets others know that their feelings matter —in essence, it encourages and plants seeds of optimism. Therapists use the term “active listening” to describe the kind of listening when we’re fully in the moment with the speaker, rather than just sitting there, occasionally glancing at a phone or computer. Ask nonjudgmental questions, and don’t interrupt.
  4. Watch their self-talk. Building confidence helps students overcome the negative self-talk — for example, phrases such as, “I’m a failure” — that pervades the thoughts of so many people in recovery. Changing a person’s self-talk requires a change in thinking. That change takes work, but believing it’s possible to be sober is empowering. Letting your friend or child know you have confidence in them might help them believe in their own strength. Remind them how far they’ve come.
  5. Increase their support group. Everyone who’s around the person recovering from addiction needs to be some kind of support system. When you have a friend or child who’s struggling with substance abuse, enlist additional friends and family to expand their support network. Having a solid group of people backing them up, no matter what they’re facing, boosts morale and confidence.

Finally, sometimes not mentioning alcohol, addiction or recovery all day long can be a welcome reward to you and your loved one — and a smile, a big hug or an “I love you” can go a long way.


By Laura Nott

Follow Laura on Twitter at @LauraSueNott

Posted on August 27th, 2015
Posted in Young Adults

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