College programming helps students recover from alcoholism

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NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (AP) _ Living in a college dorm can mean little privacy and exposure to a lot of drinking. That can make it a tough place to be for young adults who are in recovery from alcohol and other drug addictions.

But at Rutgers University, nearly two dozen students in recovery are able to live together and help each other stay sober.

Rutgers was once the only university in the country to offer on-campus housing specifically organized for students in recovery. Now a growing number of other colleges are offering a variety of special services focused on helping them stay in school.

“There is that sense when you’re in college that if you can’t drink, you’re not going to have any fun, and part of the work that we do all the time is helping people get past that,” said Lisa Laitman, director of Alcohol and Other Drug Assistance Program for Students.

Augsburg College in Minnesota and Dana College in Nebraska each have programs in place, and next fall the University of Texas at Austin plans to open its Center for Students in Recovery, which will offer students a support system along with a three-credit hour academic course entitled “Complete Recovery 101.”

And Texas Tech University recently announced it will be receiving a $250,000 federal grant to create a national model of its long-standing program, which could be emulated eventually by as many as 20 other schools.

“I think more schools are starting to realize it’s an issue that needs addressing,” said Andy Finch, the director of the Association of Recovery Schools, which formed two years ago and will meet this summer in New Jersey.

“I think the idea of binge drinking or heavy drinking on campus has been getting some exposure for a while, but I feel like more and more schools are starting to see that once people have taken it beyond binge drinking and people have become alcoholics or addicted, or perhaps receive alcohol and drug treatment, there’s a pretty significant dropout rate,” he added.

Many colleges have already made efforts to encourage students to drink less or to reduce alcohol-related crime and vandalism on campus. Some like Laitman, who organized recovery housing at Rutgers that began in 1988, view efforts to provide more assistance targeted to students in recovery as the next step.

“I think that part of it is that we have a fair amount of denial in our culture that people of this age could have substantial problems,” Laitman said. “And so we still think, ‘Well Johnny just drinks too much. If we just slap him on the hand, and give him a fine and send a letter home to his parents that’ll get him under control,’ when the issue might be far more than that.

Experts say it’s difficult to estimate how many college students drop out of school each year because of substance abuse problems. Many leave without giving a reason, Finch said.