Sober Housing for Recovering Students

Binge drinking on college campuses is nothing new, but "safe" houses for recovering student addicts are.

With nearly 50 percent of 21-year-olds admitting they binge drink, and with students picking up the habit at younger ages, more students are entering college as recovering alcoholics or addicts. Others are seeking asylum from the many temptations of campus life.

A handful of colleges across the country are addressing these students' addictions and helping them overcome them by providing sober housing on campus, with a support network of other students like themselves.

Many Temptations on Campus

For Peter, who did not want his identity revealed, marijuana and alcohol abuse caused his rock bottom fall. He was president of his fraternity and partying all the time.

"I remember waking up so many times and having that sinking feeling in my stomach," Peter said. "Like, I haven't been to class, I haven't done my work, you know, what am I going to do? And my solution to that was, ah, screw it, I'm going to go get high."

When his grades began to plummet, he left campus to get help. But when he returned to his previous life and moved back in with his old buddies, things went downhill again.

"It was just a matter of time before ... I got that confidence back," Peter said. "Like, oh, I can smoke pot a little bit, you know, I'll just do it this weekend."

Joy Wilmott and Jes Sellers, counselors at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, wanted students like Peter to know they didn't need to leave college life behind to get sober, so they opened a recovery house this past fall as an experiment for students in treatment for substance abuse.

House rules include no drinking, no drugs and group therapy sessions once a week, where students can share their challenges and solutions for staying sober.

"Instead of having to go home or leave the university, we want to see if we can connect with them and give them a chance to live in this community, to try it out with us and see what will happen," Sellers said.

Few Colleges Have Recovery Dorms, but Interest Is Growing

Close to 12 percent of college students are addicted to drugs or alcohol, yet only three colleges in the United States have special recovery dorms. Most colleges do offer alcohol-free dorms.

Rutgers University in New Jersey was the first to take alcohol-free dorms one step further and open a recovery dorm. Both Rutgers and Case Western are already getting phone calls from parents of high school students with substance-abuse problems looking for a safe place to send them to college.

So far, the experiments show recovery dorms are providing students with the critical support they need to get and stay sober.

"You know, sometimes when I don't want to stay sober for myself, I'll stay sober for the guys in the house," Peter added.

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