As children begin to consider what college or university to attend, it’s a good idea for their parents to ask whether the institutions being considered support students in recovery from substance abuse. Many parents will recoil from such a suggestion, believing addiction only affects other families, not theirs. But, this question is important for five reasons.
First, it’s entirely possible that you simply don’t know your child has already become substance-dependent.
It’s well-known that a substantial number of kids use alcohol and drugs while in high school, but a parent’s natural tendency to believe the best about their loved one can mask an emerging problem. As anyone in recovery will tell you, substance-dependent people can be extremely deceptive about what’s really going on in their lives. So, your student may actually enter school needing a program from day one.
Second, if not already dependent, he or she may need help later on.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 1,326 full-time college students used an illicit drug for the first time on an average day in 2016. Your child could easily become dependent after entering college along one of three different paths. First, it can happen quickly when pain is treated with opioids after an injury or a medical or dental procedure, especially if a genetic proclivity is present. Second, many students enter college with a mental health challenge such as anxiety or depression. It’s only too easy for a student to fall into self-medication when this is amplified by high stress academics and family separation. Finally, partying has gone hand-in-hand with academics for decades, but today’s drugs are much stronger than those to which parents might have been exposed, and are more readily available, with devastating effects.
Third, your student may need to help someone else’s child.
College recovery programs (CRPs) provide the resources and support required for someone who is not dependent on drugs or alcohol to influence someone who is. College kids get to know each other extremely well, both personally and through social media, and have the opportunity to urge a friend to seek help—but that help has to be readily available and stigma-free.
Fourth, a robust CRP is a good indication of whether an institution really cares for its students.
Merely claiming to have a program is not enough. Good CRPs flourish at schools wise enough conquer their own stigma and look out for the best interests of all their students. They realize parents of potential future students touring their campuses probably know drugs are an issue everywhere, and will actually be thankful that a school cares enough to maintain both prevention and recovery programs. And a quality CRP can prevent the shock of a fatal overdose and the ripple of anxiety it causes across an entire campus.
Fifth, the best CRPs are highly visible to undergraduates.
Students quickly accept them, and naturally overcome their own stigma towards substance abuse disorder. Upon graduation they will be better citizens, equipped to help our nation overcome the mistaken notion that addiction is a moral failing rather than a disease.
Dropping your son or daughter off at college is a special time of transition that combines love, anxiety, and excitement. But it’s also fraught with risk. My family experienced the pain of this transition gone wrong, and we are both proud and immensely grateful that the University of Denver is now establishing its own collegiate recovery program.
Sandy Winnefeld, Co-Founder