Addiction recovery programs praise peer support.
College campuses can be oversaturated with alcohol, drugs and other addictive substances. The University of Alabama’s Collegiate Recovery and Intervention Services is arming students struggling with substance use, as well as their peers, with knowledge and resources to treat addiction.
Hillary Groover, program manager at The University of Alabama’s Collegiate Recovery and Intervention Services (CRIS), understands the needs of the students she serves since she was once in their shoes.
“I’m a person in long-term recovery as well,” Groover said. “For me, that means I haven’t used a drink or drug in over six years, and I’m actually an alumni of a collegiate recovery community in Georgia. I graduated from Kennesaw State University, which has one of the largest programs in the nation, and I really wanted to give back in the way that I was really freely given the services and support I needed at my institution.”
In 2018, 1 in 10 young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 had an alcohol addiction, according to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
College students are at high risk for addiction, according to the Addiction Center. Some have a desire to experiment linked to their newfound sense of independence, while others turn to alcohol or drug use to alleviate stress or because of peer pressure. However, the widespread availability and use of substances on college campuses, as well as stigmas surrounding the concept of addiction, discourage addicted students from seeking the help they need.
“Only 6% of college students who met clinical criteria for alcohol or drug abuse or dependence sought help,” according to a report from CASAColumbia, a substance use and addiction research organization at Columbia University.
At the University, CRIS has established a comprehensive support system to provide help for students with substance-use concerns, centered around the importance of peer encouragement.
“One of the big impactful pieces of our program and programs like it across the nation, as far as the literature indicates, is peer support, and students engaging, lifting each other up, advocating for each other and being of service with and for each other,” Groover said.
CRIS, a department within the Division of Student Life, offers counseling, programming and other resources for students who are seeking a safe space in which to discuss substance use, learn how to manage substance use or participate in a recovery program for a substance use disorder.
“Most addictive substances cause the brain to release high levels of these same chemicals that are associated with pleasure or reward,” according to the Center on Addiction.
Dr. Karly Downs, the director of the Capstone Family Therapy Clinic at The University of Alabama, offered a simplified definition of substance use disorders.
“Addiction is continuing to use a substance despite negative consequences,” Downs said.
At The Capstone Family Therapy Clinic, Downs, a licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in treating patients with addictions, supervises marriage and family therapy graduate students as they research, train and provide therapy for UA students and other members of the Tuscaloosa community.
Brain imaging has identified a genetic predisposition for addiction, Downs said, but environmental factors like exposure to trauma or stress also increase the likelihood that one will develop an addiction.
Downs said an addict’s first step toward recovery is self-awareness or recognizing their addiction, and the second step is reaching out and finding a safe, understanding community to use as a support system. The best support system for an addict is always a group of people in recovery for the same addiction. While loved ones can validate and support an addict, they will never truly understand the physical and psychological challenges an addict faces during recovery.
CRIS hosts on-campus meetings throughout each week that are open to members of the greater Tuscaloosa community but are primarily student-focused and student-led. Its Al-Anon meetings on Monday afternoons cater to roommates, family members and friends who are impacted by addiction but don’t identify as having a substance use disorder themselves. People in all stages of recovery for all addictions are welcome at its Recovery Nights on Thursday evenings, where speakers share their personal experiences with substance use disorders.
Alongside counseling and mentoring services, CRIS’s Collegiate Recovery Community, or the CRC, also offers accessible academic resources for students, including academic advising, free printing and scholarships. In the CRC, students can lounge on couches, watch television and drink coffee between classes.
One of the largest difficulties facing the CRIS is a lack of awareness amongst students about its resources.
Briley Bell, a freshman majoring in creative media, said she has never heard of CRIS or its services.
“But if someone I knew needed help, I would tell them to use those resources, at least as a first step,” Bell said.
To raise awareness, trained CRC students participate in a peer education program, in which they speak in classrooms, fraternities and sororities about how to recognize the symptoms of addiction and seek help for oneself or a loved one.
“Peers are really our people at the front line,” Groover said. “Oftentimes when a student is struggling, I as the program manager of the Collegiate Recovery Community at UA am not going to be the first one to know. It’s going to be that peer, that classmate, that friend, that roommate, that boyfriend or whoever that is.”
CRIS primarily works with students with alcohol and drug use disorders, but students often have co-occurring addictions like gambling addictions, sex addictions or eating disorders, Groover said, so CRIS’s programming centers around coping mechanisms that are effective for all addictions.
Groover suggested all students visit the UA CRC and arm themselves with information about substance use and addiction. One day, it may allow them to help themselves or others.
“I guarantee every student at UA will come across somebody in their life who does struggle [with addiction], so it’s really cool to be a resource for your peers,” Groover said. “I just challenge everybody to stop by and check us out.”