Collegiate Recovery Community helps students take steps to addiction recovery

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 35 percent of college students engage in binge drinking. Iowa State’s newly implemented Collegiate Recovery Community seeks to help students recover from binge drinking and other addictive activities.

Sierra Hoeger

Stepping outside of one’s comfort zone looks different for everyone. It could mean joining a new club or finally working up the courage to talk to your crush. For some, it could be taking that first step toward recovery for an addiction. 

Recovery for an alcohol addiction, substance use addiction, individuals suffering from an eating disorder or technology users with detrimental habits are all welcome to step out of their comfort zones and join Iowa State’s Collegiate Recovery Community (CRC). 

New to campus this fall semester, the CRC will welcome students with addictions of any kind and offer support to help ensure that students are aware of resources on campus. 

Melissa Hall, a junior in psychology, was already seeking recovery when an Iowa State staff member approached her with the idea of implementing CRC onto Iowa State’s campus.

“I’m a ‘yes’ kind of person,” Hall said. “I attended the first meeting of the [CRC] and I just started becoming more and more involved, but it’s important for me, though, on such a bigger level, being a young alcoholic.”

Taking that first step toward seeking recovery can be the most critical when wanting to address certain habits. The accessibility of the CRC provides students with resources not previously available to them. 

“We know from our own data that there are students on campus that are in recovery, seeking recovery or may have an issue with some sort of substance use and this could be a great resource for them; maybe they don’t have an actual substance use disorder but abuse alcohol in a high-risk way and want to change behaviors,” said Brian Vanderheyden, student wellness program coordinator.

When looking to start the CRC, Vanderheyden said he pulled inspiration from other schools who also have CRC or similar programs on their campus. Universities such as the University of Georgia, that have a similar student population to Iowa State, have incorporated a CRC program encouraging students to “lead sober, healthier lives.”

The CRC welcomes students and allies of those facing addictive habits to “hangover-free” and “sober” events. Events that are typically centered around alcohol can be difficult for those seeking recovery to remain dry at, but students recovering from addiction now have a group of people who are in the same positions as themselves. 

Events may include alcohol-free tailgates or weekend outings that shift the focus from the presence of alcohol or drugs to spending quality time with friends. 

As president of the CRC, Hall said she hopes to encourage others to open up about a stereotypically “shameful” topic. 

“I want to be able to be that person that starts a conversation about it and someone that people can turn to,” Hall said. “They don’t necessarily have to be alcoholics or someone that struggles with drinking their entire adulthood or entire life. It could just be someone who’s saying ‘I’m not enjoying alcohol in this moment and I want to take a step away from it. What are my resources, what are my options, and what environment can I create for myself to make it better?’”

As with any new program, it may take time to build a community. Over time, Vanderheyden and Hall said they hope student interaction, awareness of events and overall word-of-mouth of the program will assist in making it not just another program on campus, but one students will come to without fear of judgment. 

Vanderheyden and Hall said they brainstormed with other universities before starting CRC.

“For us, it was kind of a no-brainer to start with a student organization and get that up and running and they can help us with all of the other ideas and goals within the next couple of years that we want to work towards,” Vanderheyden said.

By allowing allies to attend with friends who want to seek recovery from the CRC, Hall and Vanderheyden are removing judgment from a program typically faced with a fair share of it. 

“I feel very grateful for my unique perspective and I want this to be a very inclusive sort of environment, and this isn’t just about alcohol,” Hall said. “I’m hoping that someone will find my story relatable and they can say ‘I just want to be a little bit more mindful about the substances I’m putting in my body.'”

Hall reflected about her own personal experiences with addiction. 

“I’m very familiar with alcoholism, my mother is an alcoholic and it’s a debilitating disease and it will ruin your life,” Hall said. “That’s the serious part of it. And I don’t want this conversation to be serious and I think I could’ve taken what I’ve experienced with my mother and I could’ve taken what I was experiencing within myself and I could’ve felt bitter or angry, or kept to myself and not shared with the world. But I think we owe it to others to share every aspect of ourselves. I’m not saying to put it all out there, put what you’re comfortable with out there.”

The main goal of the CRC is to show students alcohol, drugs and other addictive habits can cause severe consequences or disadvantages in one’s life. Through peer support, community-building activities and substance-free events, the culture on campus can shift from one solely focused on alcohol and those other substances to one that is free of it. 

“A lot of young people joke that they’re alcoholics,” Hall said. “They go out and they party and it’s just what we do, what we’re ‘supposed’ to do. It’s not necessarily abnormal not to drink, but it’s unheard of.”

Hall also added that most seeking recovery might just want a break from whatever is causing them to lead an otherwise mentally and physically healthy life, and they can turn to the CRC whenever those feelings or mindsets arise. 

With the number of resources the CRC has to offer, students will hopefully start to see the road to recovery can be a positive one. 

However, most students might be hesitant to lay it all out on the table and share things possibly nobody else knows. 

“The wonderful thing about communities like this is you can always come back,” Hall said. “Say it wasn’t something you enjoyed at first but you want to come back, we’ll welcome you with open arms and big smiles on our faces just because we want you to be here.”

With continuous support and knowledge of a resource accessible on campus, students are more likely to join. 

“Peer support, community building and opportunities for socialization is really critical for students in recovery on college campuses so that they have opportunities to build community with other people who are in recovery or seeking recovery and they have opportunities to have fun and socialize in a college community, but in a way that’s healthy and safe for them,” Vanderheyden said. 

The CRC is just getting started. 

“Success is sort of hard to quantify,” Hall said. “I feel like even if it changes one person’s life-that’s success. If one person feels like they have finally found an option for them, a support or resource for them, that takes them away from a negative aspect of their life, that’s success.”

For more information, visit the Student Wellness website or check out their social media for updates.