MORGANTOWN, W.Va.-By external appearances, Andrew Caryl was defending his in college, with a circle of friends, a grade point average of 3.1 and more than half to obtain a degree from the main public university here.
Inside, however, he was beginning to give in to the weight of an addiction that spread long before he got to West Virginia University.
The problem began at age 15 when he was stealing liquor from his father’s closet. By the time he was on campus, he was using everything he could get his hands on: alcohol, marijuana, opioids, methamphetamine. Drugs began to displace friends and finally to classes. He left campus in 2005 after his third year and went into treatment, only to relapse. He spent some time in jail and in a shelter for the homeless.
“I used it until I fainted,” he said.
But now, more than a decade later and in recovery, Caryl, who has been clean for more than three years, returns to the campus with an average of 4.0 in a master’s program. And the university that you once left behind is helping you stay that way.
The special house at WVU where he and other students in recovery spend most of their week is a sanctuary of temptation, with meditation and book reading, cooking and even dry parties on the weekends of fall on this crazy campus. football. It illustrates what some hopes are a change in the fortune here and in other places for a population that for a long time is invisible in the university campuses of the country.
In the last decade or so, they have multiplied by seven to more than 175 programs in varying degrees of development, said Amy Boyd Austin. She is chair of the board of the Recovery Association in Higher Education and founding director of the Catamount Recovery Program at the University of Vermont.
Several factors have driven growth, from a burst of initial funding to changing attitudes.
For some experts, students in recovery are only the latest in a series of unattended campus groups to receive more attention from their schools. While alcohol remains the predominant problem on campus, opiate addiction and nationally-focused attention have highlighted the addiction to all kinds of substances, from cocaine to prescription drugs.
And the very long and uncomfortable issue of recovery on college campuses is less so in some schools where administrators can now point to the early successes of the program and what they mean to students like Mr. Caryl, 33, of Martinsburg, who fought tenaciously for years to claim his life.
A first-year student with a master’s degree in clinical rehabilitation and mental health counseling, she works 20 hours a week as a graduate assistant in the house called “Serenity Place”, training and advising those whose faint journey knows well. It is relevant to his career plans, he said, and gives his own struggle an additional meaning.
“I think this is as important a part of my recovery as anything else,” he said.
“I went from feeling like a broken human being, that I was going to suffer to death, to someone who can not only live without using, but who has dreams,” he said.
For students in recovery, college life can be the final testing ground. Every day, there are extreme challenges in an environment where social life is often anchored in the party.
Thirty-eight percent of college students aged 18 to 22 reported drinking in the last month, compared to 33 percent of others of the same age, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. One in five meets the criteria for alcohol use disorder.
Even though the university counseling centers report that there are more patients without an appointment for a variety of issues, including substance addiction, it is difficult to determine exactly what the need is on a university campus. Students in active addiction, or in recovery, may be reluctant to seek help and, for years, universities worried that discussing them openly or what was available will help undermine the image that schools prefer to offer to prospective students and parents.
But those who work in recovery, those who see successes up close, have tried to overcome that stigma for a long time, as well as the perception that difficult parties are simply a rite of initiation, “children will be boys”. thing.
The fact is that help for the subset of students who lose control can be the difference between a good life and bad life.
Collegial recovery programs vary in size, staff and philosophy, she and others said. Many have specific requirements on how long the student should be clean to enroll, but some will also make exceptions as long as the individual stays clean once they sign up.
Rutgers University in the 1980s pioneered the idea of recovery housing. For two decades, there were only a handful of others.
Even today, fewer than 40 programs include recovery homes, said Ms. Boyd. Most campuses postpone external residential programs or let students find their own adequate housing, on or off campus.
In Pennsylvania, the Penn State and Slippery Rock colleges are among those with recovery housing. Several other campuses are considering the idea, including the University of Pittsburgh, whose collegiate recovery program began a year and a half ago.
Officials at Temple University have also discussed it.
“ROAR House” by Penn State – Addiction Recovery Residence – opened in 2015 and has suite-style apartments with 16 beds. The name of the home is a Nittany Lion game from the school and is intended to suggest the collective power of the recovering students.
It is part of Penn State’s recovery program that was created in 2011 and supports some 25 students, ages 19 to 29, said Jason Whitney, education instructor and program coordinator.
“We are not a clinical environment,” he said. “We provide continuous support for the major lifestyle changes that are required to recover.”
Clients usually spend 15 to 20 hours a week in their recovery, participating in the service and in programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, as well as at least one weekly peer support seminar.
Anyone who thinks they know the typical addict is probably wrong.
“These are kids that go through every demographic in Pennsylvania,” Whitney said. “Some of them are the smartest kids in the state, some come from poverty.”
While they are in addiction, “their will is compromised,” he said. But in a sustained recovery, “they have as much drive and ambition to succeed as anyone else, even more.”
Those who stick to recovery get ratings that often outperform their campus peers, he said.
Job recruiters know this. In fact, one was even willing to wait when a student in recovery said she had to spend the summer in jail before she was available to work, Mr. Whitney said.
At Slippery Rock, the recovery effort gained a residential component in 2016. That’s when two multiple-bed units within Rock Apartments became the most modern learning community on campus, allowing students similar goals and interests, in This case stay clean and sober. to enjoy a shared life experience.
So far, there are two residents, but there is room to grow to eight.
“Most institutions start small, with a core of one to two,” said Justin Kleemook, associate director of life residency. “At this moment we are in that nucleus”.
He said it helped that he had the support of Slippery Rock administrators. He also did this by taking advantage of the existing resources of the campus, from a 24/7 health center, to the academic side of the university, including his counseling and development program.
He said Chris Cubero, an associate professor in that department, offers his time for the recovery aspect of what the school calls his life-learning community “Rock Recovery.”
Initially, there was some concern about the group of recovering addicts on campus. But the answer in Slippery Rock was the same as in other schools.
“They are already here,” said Mr. Kleemook. “Let’s give them a space so they can be successful.”
A homely place
At WVU, the collegiate recovery program does not offer overnight accommodations, but its director, Cathy Yura, said she hopes it will eventually happen.
As things stand, Serenity Place feels homely, with a kitchen, fireplace and a spacious living room on the ground floor with soft sofas and warm lighting. The paintings of a West Virginia artist line the walls, each representing the artist’s perception of a friend’s progression through recovery.
Ms. Yura, who lost a sibling to alcoholism, ran the university’s counseling center for years. She reminds the recovering students that they would go to their one-hour appointments, only to return to their regular campus environment where the roommates were using.
“The chances that they could really stay in recovery were slim,” he said.
The diverse collection of young adults who pass through Serenity Place every day and every night is “a fraternity without alcohol,” he said.
A decade ago, “We could never have done this.”
One recent Wednesday, while Mr. Caryl was leading a handful of students in silent reflection, the living room fell silent except for the occasional buzzing of passing cars. A study session of the book that followed led to the discussion about being open to the ideas of others.
“Life is pretty empty when you do not think you have something to learn,” said one.
Serenity Place is supported by the university. But it turns out that others also want to help.
“One of the reasons we have food for our kitchen is that there was a gentleman from the Pittsburgh area, he never went to WVU, he just loved what we were doing,” Ms. Yura said.
Postgraduate staff is available with training in counseling, but what varies and how much each individual shares about himself. So, why did they end there?
“They are all different,” said Ms. Yura. “Some of them, it’s spirituality, but for many they knew they were going to die or end up in jail.”
Mr. Caryl, raised in a middle-class household, the son of a lawyer and a teacher, knew that his survival depended on change.
Dressed in jeans, a shirt with buttons and a cap turned back, his pensive look seems to move away from the troubled young student who was plagued by depression, went in and out of recovery and spent six months in jail after his family He pressed charges for theft.
He appears at peace with the tumult of his past while talking about his career plans in public health and social aspects of addiction.
She smiles as she looks at one of Ruth Blackwell Rogers’s paintings on the wall of the living room inside Serenity Place. It shows a young man in a relaxed pose looking towards the sky.
“I like it a lot,” he says. “She seems to feel comfortable with her own skin.”