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Guidance for Building a Collegiate Recovery Program

By Sam Forcum, Senior Director of SAFE Campuses

Every college and university has a unique culture, with differing strengths and varying needs. Just as there is no single, perfect path to recovery, there is no one, linear approach to building a collegiate recovery program (CRP). CRPs help students obtain their education while having the resources, community, and supports they need to maintain their recovery in college.

Through its national outreach campaign to connect with every college across the country, the SAFE Campuses team has gained first-hand insight on the student resource landscape and the unique challenges and diverse capacities of each campus. With those lessons learned and through working with existing programs, we’ve developed a set of programmatic recommendations to help your collegiate recovery community make the most positive impact on your campus.  

Building Recovery Capital

Creating or improving a highly effective program to address substance use on campus requires building recovery capital, which is defined as internal and external assets that help initiate and sustain recovery, according to the Center for Dependency, Addiction, and Rehabilitation.

After examining the processes and practices from existing programs, receiving feedback from people with lived experience, and hearing the challenges and successes of collegiate recovery professionals, SAFE Project recommends the following components to build a strong CRP:

Dedicated Leader

  • Have at least one paid qualified, trained and dedicated professional employed by the College or University who supports students in recovery.

Dedicated Space

  • Identify dedicated physical space on campus for students in recovery to meet, fellowship, and seek support.

Peer Support

  • It is essential for CRPs to have a community of students to provide peer support to one another. Peer support provides a sense of belonging, community, fun, accountability, and leadership opportunities while pursuing their education.
  • It is prudent that a peer supportive community is cultivated with a culture of recovery, structure, inclusion, and support.



Recovery Housing 

  • If applicable to the campus structure, offer dedicated recovery housing on campus (different from substance free housing) or provide access to recovery-oriented housing options off-campus.

Programmatic Elements

  • Programmatic elements must account for a full range of recovery stages and pathways 
    • ie. 12-Step; Medication Assisted Recovery; Faith Based approaches; Secular Recovery approaches.
    • Stages range from:
      1. Early recovery (requiring greater levels of structure and support).
      2. Sustained recovery (allowing greater autonomy, but still able to benefit from CRP resources and supports).
      3. Peer allies, or community members with a supportive relationship with people in recovery in their lives.
  • Recognize the prevalence of co-occurring disorders and encourage CRPs to develop appropriate programming and referrals for students practicing different pathways. 
  • Maintain clearly understood requirements for continued student participation (i.e., abstinence, support for fellow students, and drug testing if/when appropriate).
    • It is essential to include a pre-planned response for returns to use, including referral to treatment and other support services as needed.

Connecting with Students 

  • Advertise the CRP across the campus (e.g., signage, web presence, and social media).
  • Publicize the program to incoming students and parents (e.g., emails to incoming first-year students, inclusion in orientation/convocation for general student population and/or for incoming CRP students and their families).
  • Assist non-participating students who reach out for support by facilitating referrals and offering support in the transition into recovery and where necessary, back into school.
  • Serve as liaison by providing referral services to other campus resources (e.g., career services, counseling services, disability services, academic support services).
  • Serve as liaison by providing referral services to off campus resources (e.g., individual therapy, medication management, family therapy, recovery community organizations).

Recovery Support Services (to support long-term recovery maintenance)

  • Seminars related to recovery or relapse prevention.
  • Skills training (e.g., coping skills, time management, financial management).
  • Holistic social identity awareness and development. 
  • Easily accessible mutual aid meetings (on or off campus). 
  • Case management for recovery support.
  • Academic support (i.e., formal or informal advising). 
  • Team building activities. 
  • Admission support to navigate the admissions process and entry into the school. 

Engaging Campus Partners and Stakeholders

  • Stakeholders assist with financial development, referral sources, additional programmatic and student support services, outreach, student engagement, and education opportunities.
  • Partner with campus entities that support overdose prevention efforts and recovery (e.g. student health infrastructures, naloxone distribution and training with first responders and residential life). 
  • Outreach to the larger student body to create awareness of substance use, misuse, and addiction in order to educate and promote recovery. 

SAFE Project is here to help!

As you build a CRP and continue to enhance and grow the program, it’s important to keep each of the aforementioned components in mind. Regular check-ins with your staff and those investing in the program will be key for continued success. 

The SAFE Campuses team provides assistance and guidance for anyone looking to build a collegiate recovery program or improve an existing one.

Connect with our team and learn how we can help support a successful program on your campus.