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Addictions, recovery and college: Do they mix?

To help students overcoming addictions, the University of Mississippi’s Collegiate Recovery Community, in its second year, offers support and opportunities for students.

OXFORD, Miss. – With relapse rates ranging from 50 percent to 90 percent among individuals recovering from addictions, support communities can play a vital role in sober living, especially in a university setting, which presents its own challenges.

To help students overcoming addictions, the University of Mississippi’s Collegiate Recovery Community, in its second year, offers support and opportunities for students who may not have had access to those resources otherwise.

“Traditionally – and this is very much changing – the treatment industry has strongly recommended that people in early recovery try not to attend college,” said Amy Fisher, a counselor at the UM Counseling Center and founder of the community.

“Going into that environment can present many triggers for past behavior. It’s important for recovering students to know they’re not broken, that they’re entitled to an education just like everybody else. Our goal is to ensure those students graduate from college and get the support to make that happen.”

UM’s program is one of a small but growing number of recovery communities across the nation on university campuses and was the first university program in the state. Established in August 2010, the program has grown from two students the first year to five students, all of whom are now on track to graduate. The recovery community was created through a grant awarded to Texas Tech University by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, to replicate its own successful program and to reach out and support other schools.

Students in the recovery community attend weekly, one-hour meetings and have access to academic and career support as well as service opportunities.

For one UM student, a junior liberal studies major, the program is the difference between today’s plans of law school and a past that involved leaving UM for two semesters because of addiction and being placed on academic probation after struggling through her first sober semester.

“First and foremost, it’s a support group,” said the student, who has been involved in the UM Recovery Community since its planning stages. “But there’s more to it than that. Although we’re in recovery, how we dealt with school in our years before we got sober kind of set a pattern. For me, that meant I skipped class, skipped homework, procrastinated and rarely studied.

“When I got sober, I didn’t want to do that anymore because I actually cared about doing well in school, but I didn’t really know how to get out of that pattern. I thought everything was supposed to fall into place after getting sober, and it doesn’t. This helps with that transition.”’

Each recovery community, while based on a general model, is tailored to the university’s specific needs. UM’s group hosts sober social events and focuses on service, a request of the students involved. Students in the program facilitate meetings at local treatment centers, Fisher said.

Students also joined Fisher this year for the third annual National Collegiate Recovery Conference in Atlanta, where they met representatives from other recovery communities and experienced the broader world of addiction and recovery. The junior liberal studies major said it was encouraging to see firsthand the success of other recovery communities, and she hopes that students in need of support at UM take advantage of the community on their own campus.

“I really like being able to help people who come into the group,” the student said. “A big part of my recovery is helping others. There’s something great in knowing that you’re not the only student on this campus going through this. If this had been here when I first came back to school, I think I probably would have done a lot better. I honestly don’t really want anyone else to struggle through that transition back to school like I did.”

A major goal of the group is to raise awareness about its services and continue to help students in need, Fisher said.

“Our current focus is trying to increase the knowledge of college students in that the possibility of being a college student and being in recovery does exist,” she explained. “This program provides students with a safe haven; a safe haven that allows them to be students. It’s a place at Ole Miss where they belong.”

(Source: University of Mississipppi. For more information about the UM Collegiate Recovery Community, visit http://www.olemiss.edu/recovery.)

 

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