Need for Collegiate Recovery Program for drug addicted students


Dr G Shreekumar Menon

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College drug addiction is a serious menace being increasingly faced by many educational institutions across India. Media reports frequently highlight the involvement of students in drug parties, rave parties and drug related violence. Drug addiction is understood as compulsive reward-seeking behaviour that occurs despite significant negative consequences across multiple life domains. It is thought to be underpinned by a chronic neurobiological process that is linked to a deficiency in the individual’s brain reward system. It is caused by a complex interplay between genetic and neurobiological mechanisms on the one hand and developmental, social and environmental factor on the other. Research has also demonstrated a strong association between adverse childhood experiences and the development of addiction in later life.

Academic institutions in India are heavily focussed only on academics and examination success. There is an unhealthy competition among institutions to showcase only the academic performance of their students by way of newspaper advertisements, and in social media. This gives only a partial picture of the performance of the institution. Higher education institutions need to pay attention to the health needs and well-being of students as part of a high-quality educational experience. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic may mean that this process needs to be accelerated. Many universities abroad have started realizing that academic performance alone cannot be a criterion for good education. In 2020, Universities in UK launched ‘Step change : mentally healthy universities’ - a strategic framework for a whole university approach to mental health and wellbeing of students at universities. Drugs and alcohol addiction recovery are viewed as part of health promotion.

Collegiate recovery programs (CRPs) have been started in many Western universities to help students pursue their education and maintain a healthy lifestyle, free from all kinds of addictions. For those students affected by various kinds of addictions universities are planning various recovery programs, that are designed to benefit students, universities, parents and society alike. Recovery is not just abstaining from all mind-altering substances but also includes embracing a positive view of wellness and personal growth. Recovery is generally seen as a process, rather than a cure, and therefore requires ongoing support and effort is needed to sustain it.

Institutions of higher education, therefore, need to give priority and emphasis on attending to the health needs and well-being of students, as a part of their core objectives. The view that academic success is a function of both providing high-quality educational experiences and promoting physical and mental health is gaining traction, all over the world. Hence organizations like UGC and NAAC needs to focus on this aspect also while making assessments of universities.

Many colleges have financial constraints in prioritizing student health, much less being able to offer specific services to students in recovery. At many colleges, students affected by drugs and alcohol are merely referred to external rehabilitation centres, by student counsellors. However, these rehabilitation centres, on their own, might not be adequate to support recovery because they are not tailored to address the unique set of stressors that college students face. Hence, setting up of recovery support services in academic settings should find a place in the responsibilities of universities as also in the New Education Policy (NEP).

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Collegiate recovery programs (CRP’s) can provide a supportive and safe space for students in recovery to further their education within an alternative social environment that supports their recovery. The peer network that can easily be provided by a collegiate recovery program can be helpful for students in recovery. Creating opportunities for students in recovery to socialize and develop a supportive social network can also reduce the risk for relapse.

Collegiate recovery programs (CRP’s), if designed and implemented properly, will also benefit the entire college campus. A strong campus-based infrastructure of recovery support services will encourage many students towards recovery if they are already contemplating it. Moreover, students in recovery are likely to have a positive influence on reducing their peers' substance use, because their personal experiences represent authentic events. In this way, these programs will not only serve students with a prior history of substance use problems but also other students as well. Making these programs visible, normalizes abstinence from alcohol or other drugs during college, and sends a message that substance use is not a necessary ingredient for having fun during college-life.

The challenge facing college students returning after completing treatment is to have access to a healthy, recovery-supportive social environment, on the college campus. Collegiate Recovery Programs (CRPs) if started, can offer recovering students these environments on college campuses. As treatment alone may not provide students with the support, they need to maintain abstinence and build strong recovery initiatives while simultaneously growing into mature young adults. To address this issue, universities in the USA began to create Collegiate Recovery Programs (CRPs). The first University-based recovery support services began at Brown University in 1977, with the aim of enabling recovering students to fully participate in a continuing care program without having to give up their educational goals. In 2005 Texas Tech University documented and exported a model for recovery support services on campus, and this led to a rapid increase in the number of CRPs in the USA. The primary goal of a CRP is to provide a safe haven for students who are struggling to maintain their hard-won abstinence from their addiction(s) while surrounded by the frequent temptations offered by the social context of a university campus. There may be an overwhelming lack of peer support for abstinence in these environments, and students may have struggle to either find or develop a social niche that is addiction-free. Non-disclosure leads students to experience considerable pressure, but even normative self-disclosure with non-addicted peers can create social distance. CRPs aim to promote hope and purpose, positive identity development, a sense of achievement and accomplishment, capacity for stable interpersonal relationships, and healthy coping skills by:

  • Early orientation, developing individual plans of study, and general academic advice
  • Establishing a safe, anonymous space for students to express their struggles with addiction(s) and to receive peer support for behaviour change
  • Periodic open meeting in ‘celebration’ of recovery that provides continued support to CRP members whilst also educating the community about the harsh reality of addiction and recovery
  • Training student peer mentors to address both recovery and educational issues
  • Developing a student organisation on lines of National Service Scheme (NSS) to be made responsible for facilitating recovery-orientated recreational and community volunteering activities
  • Providing safe, economical and healthy accommodation for those recovering from addiction problems
Collegiate Recovery Programs should be made an essential part of the higher education landscape. It's integral to a continuum of care through its role in prevention, intervention and recovery support.

Nevertheless, there is also a possibility that the college social environment can pose significant challenges for students in recovery, especially in settings where alcohol and drug use define the social environment. These challenges are compounded by adjusting to new academic demands, freedom from parental supervision, and financial pressures, which can also be relapse triggers.

Serious addiction is a chronic condition that can involve cycles of abstinence and relapse, possibly over several years. Those with lesser degrees of severity may manage to stop and never experience further problems. In more severe cases, remission requires broader change in behaviour, outlook and identity – a move from being immersed in the culture of addiction to the culture of recovery. This change occurs over a period of time, and alters how the individual thinks about themselves and their life. Such people describe themselves as being ‘in recovery’. Recovery is a process, not a single event, and takes time to achieve and effort to maintain. It must be voluntarily-sustained in order to be life-lasting.

The Ministry of Education, Ministry of Social Welfare and Ministry of Health, and Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports need to come together to devise a Collegiate Recovery Program, for implementation by universities and colleges. The ranking framework for NAAC accreditation has also to be revised to include Collegiate Recovery Program, as one of the key elements to be reckoned for grading.

(Dr. G. Shreekumar Menon IRS (RTD) Ph.D. (Narcotics) is Former Director General, National Academy of Customs Indirect Taxes and Narcotics, & Multi-Disciplinary School of Economic Intelligence India, Fellow, James Martin Centre for Non- Proliferation Studies, USA. Fellow, Centre for International Trade & Security, University of Georgia, USA). Writer can be contacted at shreemenon48@gmail.com)

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