Reducing Stigma in College Substance Abuse Recovery

substance abuse recovery

Getting into and attending college is something to be proud of - students who pursue college show promise, potential and a hard work ethic. As of a 2014 study by the National Survey on Drug Use and Alcohol, there are 9.0 million full-time college students aged 18-22.

Less discussed statistics are the more relevant ones:

  • 5.4 million of those full-time college students drank in the past month
  • 3.5 million of those full-time college students engaged in binge drinking in the past month
  • 1.2 million of those full-time college students engaged in in heavy alcohol use in the past month
  • Nearly 2.0 million full-time college students (22.2 percent) used an illicit drug in the past month.

“Being a college student in recovery is challenging at best. While the college experience in the United States and elsewhere has always had a rich history of expanding minds, broadening horizons, and creating environments for intellectual and social revolutions, that story has changed considerably in the last thirty years. College has by all rights become a rite of passage marked almost exclusively by the grand epic narrative of the party experience,” The Association of Recovery in Higher Education (ARHE) explains. Substance abuse is a very real and serious concern on college campuses across the United States, despite the pulse of the culture that reinforces it.

College Substance Abuse Recovery Programs

But many universities have resources that help fight back against this unhealthy culture. College recovery programs are becoming more and more commonplace as universities are faced with the repercussions of addiction on their student bodies, including higher dropout rates, increased health leaves, and sinking grades. The increasing presence of college recovery programs is a testament to the need of their services.

However, stigma can often keep students from pursuing the help they need. “When a person experiences stigma they are seen as less than because of their real or perceived health status,”, an American Addiction Center Resource site explains. “Stigma results in prejudice, avoidance, rejection, and discrimination against people who have a socially undesirable trait or engage in culturally marginalized behaviors, such as drug use.”

When substance use is considered the norm, those who suffer from substance abuse and need treatment may feel outcasted and without the resources to thrive socially. However, it is the exact opposite: by seeking recovery, college students can pull themselves out of the depths of addiction and thrive. Often, coming forth and seeking support is the path to recovery.

There are many valiant efforts in place to help reduce the harmful stigma on substance abuse among college students. One point against the stigma is the existence of peer mentors at college recovery programs. Peer mentors provide support, insight and guidance for those in recovery, having experienced addiction and sought recovery themselves. They serve as strong ambassadors in the fight against stigma, as individuals who:

  • Offer compassionate support.
  • Display kindness to people in vulnerable situations.
  • Listen while withholding judgment.
  • See a person for who they are, not what drugs they use.
  • Have learned about drug dependency and how it works.
  • Treat people with drug dependency with dignity and respect.
  • Avoid hurtful labels.
  • Replace negative attitudes with evidence-based facts.
  • Speak up when you see someone mistreated because of their drug use.
  • Share their own stories of substance abuse and facing stigma.

Peer mentorship can provide support and help students feel confident that college life doesn’t have to be about substance use. “Studies have shown positive outcomes from participating in peer support groups. Active engagement in peer support groups has shown to be a key predictor of recovery, and sustaining recovery,” a 2016 research article in the journal Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation explains. Through recovery communities on campus, students in recovery can find relief from the negative stigma of battling an addiction.