By Jackie Daniels
Every September, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), sponsors National Recovery Month. The month of events promotes public awareness of mental health and substance use issues, and most importantly, celebrates recovery.
As this month comes to a close, allow me to introduce myself and my qualifications for writing this blog. My name is Jackie Daniels, and I am the director of OASIS, a department within the IU Health Center and Division of Student Affairs. I am also a person in long-term recovery, and have not found it necessary to drink alcohol or take a drug since December 15, 2000, when I was in my fourth year as an IU Bloomington undergraduate. I do not share my recovery status for accolades or attention, but to challenge stigma. As I have openly shared my recovery status on campus, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a new student organization, Students in Recovery-Bloomington (SIRB).
I know how hard is to imagine that college students would a) give up drinking and b) have a “real problem” in the first place. However, these ideas are simply untrue. The truth is, many current IU students, and thousands of other college students across the country have found recovery, and currently participate in Collegiate Recovery Programs in existence on over 140 campuses nationwide. The Association of Recovery in Higher Education defines a “Collegiate Recovery Program” as a “supportive environment within the campus culture that reinforces the decision to disengage from addictive behavior.” The main purpose of a collegiate recovery program is to provide equal opportunity in achieving academic success while simultaneously managing personal addiction recovery through access to supportive campus services.
What is recovery? For some, it means achieving a level of health and stability while living with a mental health condition. For members of SIRB, it means completing college sober. It also means giving back to the community through acts of service, or supporting their peers or classmates struggling with current substance use issues, without judgement or shame. It can also mean attending 12-step or other support meetings, hitting the gym for a workout, or hanging out with other sober friends, while other IU students are hanging out in bars.
Members of SIRB shared with me recently what recovery support on this campus means to them and I am sharing their thoughts (with permission) below.
- “Recovery support on campus means acknowledging that everyone’s not ‘doing it.’ Some of us can’t [do it their way] successfully, and choose not to use alcohol and drugs. And, we are part of this community, too.”
- “Recovery support on campus means getting rid of the stigma. It means talking about alcohol and drug use as a public health issue. It means taking steps to amend the issue through the provision of support groups, specialized academic help, and building a positive community in which everyone belongs.”
- “Recovery support means having people understand that I am not a bad person. It means trusting science. I have a disease that doesn’t discriminate based on age, gender, nationality, or socioeconomic status. It can happen to anyone, and we want to educate and raise awareness.
- “Recovery support is about hope. Hope for students struggling, for students who’ve lost friends and family to addiction or overdose, and hope for future Hoosiers in recovery.”
There are common misconceptions about addiction and individuals in recovery that act as barriers which prevent college students from getting help for substance use problems. These misconceptions are fueled by stereotypes, misperceptions of collegiate substance use, and shame. Below are some common examples of these misconceptions and their solutions.
- “Addiction isn’t a disease. If they want to stop, they can.”
- Years of scientific research do not lie. Addiction is recognized by the American Society of Addiction Medicine as “A primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability and even death.”
- “If you wanted to control it, you could. Addiction is a lack of will power.”
- Prolonged exposure to drugs alters the brain in ways that result in powerful cravings and a compulsion to use. These brain changes make it extremely difficult to quit by sheer force of will. For some, the changes take decades. For others, it only takes a few months or years, resulting in addiction as young as age 18, 19, or 20.
- “People in recovery are boring and don’t have any fun.”
- If you want to see what people in recovery do for fun, come to a meeting of SIRB on a Thursday evening in the IMU. The truth is, IU students in recovery can find fun in the most mundane things. They also remember the fun the next morning.
- “You can’t drink in front of, nor invite people in recovery, to parties where alcohol is served.”
- While it may be true that students in recovery are not responsible for addiction, they do recognize they are responsible for their recovery. Students in recovery attend all kinds of events and gatherings, and can say no when they don’t feel comfortable attending.
- “People in recovery are judgmental about alcohol and drug use once they quit.”
- While they can’t speak for everyone in recovery, the students in recovery on our campus do not judge others who can and do choose to use substances. They help others by sharing their experience, not by judging. Through unity and support, they get better while living in a culture saturated by messages supportive of substance use.
OASIS and SIRB would like to invite you to a National Recovery Month panel presentation, “Pathways to Recovery” that will take place on September 28 at 6:30 p.m. in the Indiana Memorial Union’s Oak Room. Five panelists will shed light on the variety of ways individuals find recovery, including an IU student currently in recovery. We hope you will join us for the event and bring awareness of helpful resources in combatting addiction.
Additionally, a variety of workshops on addiction and recovery are available upon request. You may also contact OASIS for recovery resources by emailing OASIS@indiana.edu. We are available to speak in classrooms, student organizations, or at special events.
Thank you for being a part of a culture that cares on our campus.