By: Olivia Suarez, Daniel Jenkins, Shelby Custer, Omar Longoria, and Briana Denham
Alcohol and drug use can become a social norm or even a “rite of passage” for many college students. The common phrase “YOLO” can quickly spiral students into an addiction that’s difficult to overcome.
Addiction to drugs, alcohol or other detrimental habits amongst college students, instigated programs like Students in Recovery (CSR) at The University of Texas in Austin. Founded in 2004, CSR is celebrating its 10th anniversary and continues to widen its scope of assistance for students seeking to recover from addiction.
Sierra Castedo, acting director for CSR, says that students with addictions attend weekly recovery meetings and treatment programs on their own accord; they seek a genuine college experience.
CSR’s peer-to-peer support system helps students in recovery to attain their goals.The magic of one student in recovery talking to another student in recovery, and having that experience where they totally understand each other without having to explain this big, scary, massive backstory,” is what helps make the work at CSR worthwhile, states Castedo.
Stephenie Nunn, a graduate student in recovery and discussion leader at CSR, says the peer-to-peer system at CSR has been monumentally helpful throughout her journey. “I never really understood community until I got sober,” Nunn says. “And the people at CSR have been so supportive of me, with both accountability and believing in me, while also being a safe place I can go to.”
Nunn is pursuing her Master’s degree in Social Work and is looking to graduate in May, and she says she’s looking forward to helping others on their own journeys just as CSR helped her. “A recovery movement is coming,” Nunn says with a smile. “And it’s time.”
CSR also breaks down stigmas associated with drug, alcohol and other addictions. CSR Student Assistant Dewayne Trice describes the difficulties some students have in admitting and seeking help with their addiction.
“The stigma is the biggest thing. A lot of people fear that if they come here it’s going to be a black mark of that people might find out and they might get in trouble,” Trice says. He adds, “If you’re not in recovery and you don’t know about addiction, it’s easy to point at people who are addicted and say, ‘Well, they just made bad choices.’ For the most part, I think it’s just important that people see that, yeah, we made bad decisions, but that doesn’t mean we’re bad people.”
CSR hopes its success will inspire more collegiate recovery centers at UT and throughout the country. Out of 4,000 universities in the United States, only 100 have recovery centers similar to UT’s.
Recovery programs like these exist for addicts in high school as well. The University High School located in Austin, opened earlier this fall, and is the first of its kind not only in Austin, but central Texas as well. The only other two in the state are located in Houston and Dallas.
A group of ladies and peer groups in the Austin community originally conceptualized UHS. They realized that students in Austin needed a safe and sober place to learn. Adolescent substance use is one of the largest public health problems in the United States, stated the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. Thus, the need for youth-centered recovery programs is more important now than ever before.
Executive Director Becky Ahlgrim welcomes UHS students from all walks of life into the program. With 20 years of sobriety from drugs and alcohol, she knows the trials that accompany drug addiction.
“I’ve seen students who didn’t want to be here, but they kept showing up, and they weren’t quite sure why they were showing up,” Ahlgrim says. “So I’ve seen students who were not sure if they wanted to be sober, become wanting to be sober,”
UHS provides an average school day experience for students. There are forty-five minute classes that cover different subjects, and recovery activities during the day that serve as elective credits. By giving them daily structure, emotional and behavioral support, students gain more confidence in their academic abilities.
“I know the amazing feeling that comes when a student gets it and they are seeing themselves as a successful learner,” says Ahlgrim. “So that’s something I’m very passionate about.”
Their collaboration with CSR helped create a bridge between college and high school recovery students. The organizations aim to reinforce the message that recovery is possible and attending college is something to strive for.
Eventually, the two programs hope to create a mentorship program where senior UHS students pair up with a college student as they make their transition into college.
“Our students are on the other side of that and have enough distance from it so they can be that beacon of hope for those students and provide that practical advice like, ‘Here’s how I did it,’” Castedo says.
Ahlgrim has similar hopes for the program that should begin in the spring of 2015. “It is just something that I’m very excited for growing very organically, because those kind of relationships are just something that’s meant to be,” she says.
Whether in high school or college, these recovery programs have made a real impact in the Austin community and the participants. They’ve helped change the lives of students in recovery and helped build their confidence as they transition into their sobriety.
Castedo sums up the entirety of CSR when she says, “We do need to have a safe space for these students, but they are not necessarily going to crumble, they’re not as fragile as that. These are incredibly resilient people. These are incredibly hope-filled, purposeful, and service oriented people who have overcome and gone through so much.”