A residence hall for college students in recovery that is slated to open in New York City this fall is a new twist on a model that has long been used successfully in a small but growing number of colleges across the country.
Recovery residence halls are designed to help students find like-minded peers who are willing to take the clean and sober route through their college careers. The Association of Recovery Schools lists 16 colleges and universities with recovery programs.
Unlike existing recovery housing programs that are affiliated with a particular school, the New York residence, run by Hazelden, will be open to students at colleges throughout Manhattan, including Columbia University and New York University (NYU). It will be located in the trendy Tribeca neighborhood close to NYU, but will be operated in clinical partnership with the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry.
Mark Mishek, President and CEO of Hazelden, says the residence, called Tribeca Twelve, is modeled partly on the StepUP program at Augsburg College in Minneapolis, a recovery program that has been housing students for 15 years.
The residence will house 30 students. Living in Tribeca Twelve is pricey–$5,000 to $5,500 per month–compared with $14,000-$16,000 per year for NYU. But Mishek says he expects the money students would normally borrow to pay for student housing for their own university would be applicable. And if they receive any mental health services, he says that should be covered at least in part by the students’ health insurance.
Services at Tribeca Twelve include a personal recovery coach who helps each student develop a personal recovery and academic plan. Students will participate in house meetings and there will be on-site Alcohol Anonymous (AA) meetings. The residence will provide entertainment, including sober parties. “We want to show students they can have fun while being sober,” Mishek says. Students will also learn life skills including cooking, shopping, personal finance and navigating relationships. “These are emerging adults, and emotionally, they tend to get stuck at the age they started using heavily. We want to help them break through that and get unstuck from the emotional state they were frozen in when they started using.”
Students will be tested for substance use and relapses will be handled on a case-by-case basis, he says. “Relapse is part of having a chronic disease with a behavioral component,” he says. “Our primary goal is to get the student back on track, and evaluate their personal recovery plan to see if they need a change in their level of care. Some might need to get back into residential care or they may be able to stay in the dorm with more monitoring.”
The residence will be geared toward students who are already in recovery, Mishek says. “They have to be at the stage of their recovery where they can be comfortable being around drugs or alcohol without using them. If they can’t walk by a bar without going in, then they haven’t progressed enough to be in this program.”
Augsburg: Largest Residential Recovery Program
Augsburg College’s StepUP® program, which serves more than 75 students a year, bills itself as the largest residential college recovery program. StepUP benefits from its location in Minneapolis, which is known for its density of 12-step support meetings.
Students living in the StepUP residence hall must stay for at least a year, but many stay for two years, says the program’s director, Patrice Salmeri. Residents meet with a counselor every week and participate in community meetings. “We talk about issues and have a lot of celebrations,” Salmeri says. Each student is paired with a mentor who helps them get through the first year.
Students must be clean and sober for at least six months in order to live in the residence hall. They are tested both before they move in and while living in the residence hall, either randomly or because of a suspicion of relapse—such as if they stop going to class or start hanging around with a different crowd.
“If a student relapses, we don’t just drop them—we follow them until they get help.” Recommendations for what should be done if a student relapses are made on a case-by-case basis, and depend in part on how severe the relapse is and whether the student is willing to get help.
Over the last 13 years, the abstinence rate for students in StepUP has been 87 percent, Salmeri says. This year, 94 percent of students in the program have more than one year of sobriety, and 51 percent have more than two years. The average GPA over the last 13 years for StepUP students is 3.2, higher than the college average.
While the majority of students in the program have abused marijuana and alcohol, this year 20 percent of students coming into the program abused opiates. “The abuse of prescription medication mirrors the rise we’re seeing nationally,” Salmeri says.
Rutgers: Safe and Connected, But Not Isolated
Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ, has had recovery housing for 23 years. “We work hard to make the experience for our students not that different from other residence halls,” says Lisa Laitman MSEd, LCADC, Director of the Alcohol and Other Drug Assistance Program at Rutgers. “If you come in, you’ll see students studying or hanging out in the living room. But if you listen carefully to their conversations, you’ll hear differences. They’re talking about what 12-step meeting they’re going to, or when they’re meeting with their sponsor.”
While living in the residence hall allows students to be removed from drinking and drug use in their living environment, they are involved in campus life in every other way, from community service to sports, Laitman says. “This is a place where they can feel safe and connected, but we don’t isolate them from the rest of campus,” she says.
The students in Rutgers’ recovery house have been in recovery for several months to several years. “The age range of the Rutgers Recovery House is primarily in the 18-26 year range,” Laitman says. “Some of our students have had interruptions in their college career to go to treatment and then transfer to a college that supports recovery, such as Rutgers. As a result, we have found that students in recovery tend to take their college experience much more seriously.”
Laitman says that students can live in the residence hall year-round to allow them to avoid spending too much time at home, where many of them have connections with people and places related to their substance abuse. While many students live in the residence hall the entire time they are at Rutgers, some seniors move off campus in groups to prepare for living on their own after college.
The school has a full-time recovery counselor who works only with recovering students. Students who relapse must leave the residence hall while they undergo withdrawal. After that, the staff determines if the student can return, sometimes with a higher level of care, or whether the student will need more intensive treatment. “Sometimes students who come out of relapse do even better than before,” Laitman says.
Anecdotal evidence, from reunions of recovery housing residents, indicate that many stay sober even years after they graduate, Laitman says. “We have a lot of stories of people who have 25 or more years of recovery,” she says.
For a list of colleges and universities with recovery housing, visit the Association of Recovery Schools.