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Why Collegiate Recovery Programs Work

Collegiate recovery programs are not entirely new. The idea of providing specialized support for college students in recovery actually became a reality in the 1970s at Brown University. Rutger’s University and Texas Tech University followed suit in the 1980s and the Augsburg University StepUP Program began in the late 1990s (White & Finch, 2007).

What makes a program a Collegiate Recovery Program (CRP)? These programs are more than a “dry” or “sober” residence hall. Colleges and universities designate first and second-year student residence halls as “alcohol-free” but unfortunately, this designation and the reality can be quite different things. A CRP is much more than simply an “alcohol-free” space. A CRP is a program which offers specialized and strategic support to help students achieve growth and success in their recovery and academic journey. At StepUP we also recognize that addiction and mental health are often experienced in tandem, and our innovative program addresses both addiction recovery as well as ongoing mental health support for students to be able to have a holistic recovery support experience.

On another level, CRPs are counter-cultures to the “party scene” in the college environment. Research for several decades has illuminated the entrenched culture of binge drinking and drug use on college campuses (Wechsler & Weithrich, 2002). CRPs offer an alternative, safe and supportive environment and culture for students attending college while maintaining their recovery.

Research is bringing to light the effectiveness of CRPs for students in recovery. A strong community of recovering peers provides an important buffer to the risky environment of college drinking. This community also provides an important social network that helps to meet the belonging needs of these students (Harris, Baker, Kimball, & Shumway, 2007). The community also helps to provide multiple opportunities for sober and safe recreation to help students get the entire “college experience” but without the negatives and regrets.

Furthermore, having program staff trained and experienced in addiction disorders provides another element of critical support for these students. Given that a significant percentage of students who enroll in CRPs such as StepUP also have co-occurring mental health challenges, the availability of licensed counseling staff becomes an even more critical support component for their success (Botzet, Winters, & Fahnhorst, 2007).

Botzet, A., Winters, K., & Fahnhorst, T. (2007). An exploratory assessment of a college substance abuse recovery program: Augsburg college’s StepUP program. Journal of Groups in Addiction & Recovery, 2: 2-4, 257-270.

Harris, K., Baker, A., Kimball, T., Shumway, S. (2007). Achieving systems-based sustained recovery: A comprehensive model for collegiate recovery communities. Journal of Groups in Addiction & Recovery, 2: 2-4, 220-237.

Wechsler, H., & Wuethrich, B. (2002). Dying to drink: Confronting binge drinking on college campuses. Rodale Press.