As the broad construct of recovery increasingly guides addiction services and policy, federal agencies have called for the expansion of peer-driven recovery support services. The high prevalence of substance use and abuse in colleges and universities in the United States constitutes a significant obstacle to pursuing an education for the unknown number of youths who have attained remission from substance use dependence. Collegiate recovery programs (CRPs) are an innovative and growing model of peer-driven recovery support delivered on college campuses. Although no systematic research has examined CRPs, available site-level records suggest encouraging outcomes: low relapse rates and above-average academic achievement. The number of CRPs nationwide is growing, but there is a noticeable lack of data on the model, its students, and their outcomes. We review the literature supporting the need for the expansion of CRPs, present information on the diversity of CRP services, and outline key areas where research is needed.
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Numerous institutions interested in developing a CRP cite the lack of a formal model and systematic evaluation data as obstacles to gaining internal institutional support to start a CRP, even though they recognize the need. The need to systematically evaluate CRPs is also noted in a report issued by the U.S. Department of Education in May 2011, with the goal of ensuring a continuum of care from high school to college to postgraduation. The report calls for prospective studies on substance use and academic outcomes among students in CRPs to inform the higher education system’s response to college students in recovery (Dickard et al., 2011). The authors of this article recently received funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to conduct an exploratory study of CRPs and their students as a first step in planning a systematic, rigorous evaluation of CRPs. The study will survey all existing programs and their students nationwide. At the program level, we will document the diversity of structure, range and comprehensiveness of services of the existing CRPs, and entry and participation requirements. At the student level, we will collect detailed information about students’ addiction history and severity, paths and strategies to initiating recovery (e.g., treatment, recovery school, wilderness program, juvenile justice), to sustaining recovery until college (services utilization), and why they enrolled in a CRP. We will also examine college-specific recovery challenges and service needs, and be able to start characterizing an untapped subpopulation: SUD youths who sustain recovery, establish a drug-free life, complete high school, and go on to college. Although this group might be the exception rather than the norm, information about their recovery paths and the resources and strategies they used to sustain remission can be highly useful to continuing services development.
The project described was supported by Award Number R21DA033448 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute on Drug Abuse or the National Institutes of Health.
- college students
- recovery support services
- substance use disorder