Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

An Education in Addiction Recovery Programs Grow on College Campuses

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

An Education in Addiction Recovery Programs Grow on College Campuses

Article excerpt

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - By outward appearances, Andrew Caryl was holding his own in college, with a circle of friends, a 3.1 grade-point average and more than halfway to earning a degree from the flagship public university here.

Inside, though, he was beginning to buckle from the weight of an addiction that took hold long before he arrived at West Virginia University.

The trouble began at age 15 when he would steal liquor from his father's cupboard. By the time he was on campus, he was using whatever he could get his hands on - alcohol, marijuana, opioids, methamphetamine. The drugs began crowding out friends and finally classes. He left campus in 2005 after his junior year and went into treatment, only to relapse. He spent time in jail and in a homeless shelter.

"I used until I passed out," he said.

But now, more than a decade later and in recovery, Mr. Caryl, who has been clean for more than three years, is back on campus with a 4.0 grade-point average in a master's program.

And the university he once left behind is helping him stay that way.

The special townhouse at WVU where he and other students in recovery spend much of their week is a sanctuary from temptation, with meditation and book-readings, cooking and even dry tailgate parties held during fall weekends on this football-crazy campus. It illustrates what some hope is a change in fortunes here and elsewhere for a population long invisible on the nation's college campuses.

Almost unheard of 20 years ago, collegiate recovery programs are growing rapidly, including some with recovery housing.

In the last decade or so, they have increased sevenfold to upward of 175 programs in varying degrees of development, said Amy Boyd Austin. She is board president of the Association of Recovery in Higher Education and founding director of the University of Vermont's Catamount Recovery Program.

Various factors have fueled the growth, from a flurry of seed funding to changing attitudes.

To some experts, recovering students are just the latest in a series of underserved campus groups to receive more attention from their schools. While alcohol remains the predominant campus issue, opioid addiction and the attention focused on it nationally have put a spotlight on substance addiction of all kinds, from cocaine to prescription drugs.

And the subject of recovery itself, long an uncomfortable one on college campuses, is becoming less so at some schools where administrators now can point to early program successes and what they mean to students like Mr. Caryl, 33, from Martinsburg, who fought tenaciously for years to reclaim his life.

A first-year master's student in clinical rehabilitation and mental health counseling, he works 20 hours or so a week as a graduate assistant in the townhouse dubbed "Serenity Place," coaching and mentoring those whose tenuous journey he knows well. It's relevant to his career plans, he said, and gives his own struggle added meaning.

"I consider this as big a part of my recovery as anything else," he said.

"I went from feeling like I was a broken human being, who was going to suffer until I died, to someone who not only is able to live without using, but someone who actually has dreams," he said.

For students in recovery, college life may be the ultimate proving ground. Every day, there are extreme challenges in a setting where social life often is anchored by partying.

Thirty-eight percent of college students age 18 to 22 reported binge drinking in the last month, compared to 33 percent for others the same age, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. One in five meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder.

Even though college counseling centers report more walk-ins for a variety of issues, including substance addiction, it's hard to gauge exactly what the need is on a college campus. Students in active addiction, or in recovery, can be reluctant to seek help, and for years, universities worried that openly discussing addiction or what's available to help would undermine the image that schools prefer to deliver to prospective students and parents. …

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