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What college students want in recovery

August 3, 2015
by Megan Combs, Associate Editor
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Of all the colleges and universities in the country, only about 150 offer or are starting up collegiate recovery programs. Thinking of starting one up at your university? University of North Texas Collegiate Recovery Program Director Robert Ashford shared some advice at Monday's National Conference on Addiction Disorders (NCAD) in St. Louis.
Ashford highlighted three ways to start a program. In his words: from the bottom up, from the top down, and bottom up top down.
Bottom up involves students from marginalized populations gathering and demanding services. Ashford said that if a college has 30,000 students, a group of 500 demanding addiction or mental health services will be heard and eventually will not be ignored.
Top down involves a group of administrative champions believing in a need for services and gathering students to back them up.
Bottom up top down is when a student group galvanizes with an administrator group to create a powerhouse. 
But really, it all comes down to dollars and cents, Ashford said.
"Colleges and universities are businesses. Figure out now having an addiction recovery program is affecting its bottom line and present the figures to them," Ashford said. "Of course there's a tugging at the heart strings with this too, but emotional context doesn't always get things done. We rely on it too much in this field."
At the university, Ashford and his team studied what programs worked best for the students, more than 800, in his program. The program is fully integrated, meaning it helps both mental health (MH) and substance use disorder (SUD) students. There is no required sobriety length to join the program.
"Our collegiate recovery program is a place for people in recovery that also want to go to college and have a normal college experience in a sober way," Ashford said. "And you don't have to have an MH or SUD problem to join. You can be an ally or a loved one of someone with a disorder."
Paula Heller Garland, a clinician in the program, said people shouldn't have to choose between their recovery and their education. The program provides a set of resources and services that can help in recovery and life in college.
So what services are most beneficial to college students? 
SUD and MH students both prefer peer to peer services such as planned meetings and events. However, there is some separation in programming. SUD students also benefit from mutual aid meetings such as 12-Step, and recovery case management. MH students benefit from clinical counseling and recovery case management. 
SUD students did not find academic mentoring or clinical counseling helpful, and MH students did not prefer mutual aid meetings.
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