Help for Students in Recovery
Shortly after the good news goes out to the students accepted at Tufts each spring, Ian Wong gets a certain type of phone call. It’s from parents whose children are in recovery from substance abuse, and they want to know what kind of support Tufts can offer their kids if they attend.
“They’re thinking about what college was like for them. They remember the parties, and they’re saying, ‘I’m not going to put my child back in that situation’,” said Wong, director of alcohol and health education on the Medford/Somerville campus. “They don’t want to lose their children again. They don’t want them to lose their sobriety.”
Wong can tell them about Tufts’ offerings such as Wilson House, the substance-free residence for first-year students, or Another Option, a group that promotes substance-free social experiences.
Starting this fall, those options will increase, as Tufts begins a collaboration with The Haven at College, a private company that teams up with colleges to provide on- or near-campus drug and alcohol treatment and recovery support services.
Among the projects Tufts and The Haven will undertake are establishing an outpatient center adjacent to campus for students in recovery who also suffer from disorders like anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress, and an on-campus recovery residence. College students from the local area may utilize the outpatient center as well. Tufts is the first college in New England to join with The Haven.
“We know there are amazing students coming to college who have gotten into trouble with substances in high school and who are now in recovery, and colleges need to have a place for them to survive and thrive,” said Michelle Bowdler, the university’s executive director of health and wellness.
According to the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in 2016, 22.2 percent of full-time college students across the country reported using illicit drugs, 39 percent engaged in binge drinking, and 13.2 percent used alcohol often.
But those numbers don’t tell the whole story. “There is a significant percentage of people who come to college—over 25 percent—who have never had a drink, or don’t intend to drink,” said Bowdler. This includes those students in recovery—roughly defined as those with previous alcohol or drug use disorders who have voluntarily chosen sobriety.
“Some people believe that drinking is an inevitable part of the college experience. That, in fact, is not true,” she said. Tufts, like many other undergraduate campuses, has seen a decrease in the past five years in students cited for alcohol violations or transports to area hospitals for intoxication. And as a matter of policy, all university-sponsored campus events are drug- and alcohol-free.
Still, says Wong, not drinking or using drugs like marijuana can be perceived by students as a lonely choice. “At any event, if there are thirty students who don’t use drugs or alcohol, they’re standing in the crowd thinking they’re the only ones,” he said.
With the appearance about five years ago of Another Option, a student group that organizes social events and connects students interested in activities without substance use, “now those students can say, ‘we all have the same beliefs, we can all go together.’ Hopefully, that’s what The Haven will be—a place to be with other students who have the same beliefs and lifestyles.”
In addition, The Haven will help fill a much-needed gap in substance use and addiction services. When students incur an alcohol violation on campus, they undergo a substance-use assessment, which can identify students in need of further treatment. But “there’s really quite an absence of drug- and alcohol-treatment in the Boston area,” Bowdler said. Programs directed at young adults are scarce, and those that exist often have lengthy waiting lists.
The Haven’s counseling services will also increase the options for students struggling with both substance use and mental illness. “Over the past few years, everyone’s been talking about mental health on college campuses, with the rise in people entering college with diagnosed mental health conditions including anxiety, depression, and others,” Bowdler said.
“There’s a correlation between mental health concerns and substance use—students who are struggling may turn to drugs or alcohol to alleviate symptoms,” she added. “Our mental health staff will tell you that finding treatment for students who would like to look more seriously at how drugs and alcohol have impacted their lives, and tie into mental health issues, has been a challenge.”
Students in recovery in college “still struggle with housing, support, and treatment,” Bowdler said. “The Haven addresses all three. We couldn’t have picked a better group to do this work with.”
Helene Ragovin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.