Freshman year on any college campus can hold many temptations for students on their own for the first time. No matter how restrictive the residence hall, or how vigilant the staff, those students who are determined to party, and to indulge in prohibited substances, can usually find a way to gain access to them.
Oregon State University is no exception, as John (not his real name) found out five years ago when he started at OSU. John, who asked that his identity be protected, had already developed a drinking problem, and a penchant for marijuana, during his high school days. Moving from his parents’ home just expanded his chances to indulge in both.
“It was our first opportunity to be free,” John said. “To party with no consequences (from parents).”
For an addict, college can be a dangerous mix of temptation and freedom. OSU is working on a new program that will focus on providing support, community and resources to students in recovery, in the hopes of helping people like John. A meeting focused on a new student recovery community will be held Nov. 29, at 6 p.m. in MU 206. The public is welcome to attend.
When John arrived at OSU, he wasn’t in recovery, but was already deep into a pattern of addiction. In his residence hall, he found peers with the same focus on partying. For some students who use drugs and alcohol, this may be a passing phase, but for addicts, it can particularly dangerous.
Eventually his partying caught up with him, and after receiving four charges of possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, John nearly got thrown out of school. He managed to convince the student conduct board that he wanted to change, and for a while he believed it himself. He moved out of the residence hall and into an apartment near campus, hoping a change of scenery would keep him out of harm’s way, but he soon relapsed. He had changed locations but not friends.
Finally, John began to recognize that he was squandering his time at OSU, and ruining his relationships.
“Eventually I had enough,” he said. “I was losing touch with who I was.”
That’s when John found an Alcoholics Anonymous student group on campus. It took about six months before he finally got sober and stayed that way, but at a very large cost.
“My friends didn’t understand what was going on,” he said. “To acknowledge I had a problem would be for them to acknowledge they might have one too.”
He relied more and more on the friends he made in AA, but navigating the world at large was more difficult.
“I didn’t know what to do on weekends,” he said, because parties involved too much exposure to drugs and alcohol. “I thought ‘How am I supposed to interact with my friends now?’”
Two years later, John is finding it easier to live a fun and sober life, and he wants other students in recovery to have the same opportunity. When many students focus on socializing, drinking and other activities that go with it, John thinks that OSU needs to find a way to provide a safe space for students like him, who fight every day to stay sober.
That’s why he supports the idea of a residential recovery center, not a rehab, he emphasizes, but a space where students who are in recovery can have a sober environment.
Robert Reff, substance abuse prevention coordinator at OSU, is helping lead the effort to create a student recovery community on campus. He successfully implemented a similar program at his previous university, St. Cloud State in Minnesota, and saw an opportunity to do similar work at OSU. The idea struck a chord with Vice Provost for Student Affairs Larry Roper, as well as University Housing and Dining.
“It’s not a treatment center or a half-way house,” Reff said. “It’s intentional support for students with a common theme of recovery.”
The idea is to create a small residential living center which provides space for students of all ages who are in recovery to be able to pursue their studies in an environment dedicated to their continued success with sobriety. The social and community aspects of a shared living space for those in recovery can’t be underestimated, Reff and John say.
AA does a tremendous job of providing social opportunities like dinners and other events, but the group’s reach is limited. That’s why John envisions a small corner of campus set aside for folks like him, who need that extra help.
“A residential recovery center provides one key feature, a support network,” John said. “On their own, one person has a hard time staying sober.”
It’s not enough to have a non-partying floor in a residence hall. Students who do not drink for religious or other purposes do not have the same perspective as recovering addicts.
“Little things can trigger a desire to use. It’s hard to talk about it to someone who hasn’t gone through it.”
John feels like he’s on the right path now. He recently changed majors to healthcare, because he’s realized what he wants to do is to help people struggling with their own big issues.
“Part of staying sober is helping other people with their own problems,” John said, “and developing a selfless attitude.”
Reff said he hopes to get at least a small pilot version going by fall term, and he said once implemented, OSU’s program would be the only one at a university west of the Rockies, according to the Association of Recovery Schools. Reff said it could be a recruitment tool for parents whose teen kids have gotten into trouble with substance abuse and are worried that college will make the situation worse.
John agrees that students in recovery and their parents will be keen to take advantage of a student recovery center, which could be crucial to their success at school.
“It can be a life or death matter.”
~ Theresa Hogue