A Seamless Transition

Linking college-bound emerging adults with collegiate recovery programs

Collegiate recovery programs (CRPs) are rapidly expanding across the United States. From 2000 to 2010, the country experienced a large increase in the number of collegiate recovery communities (Laudet, 2016). Additionally, emerging adults (ages 18–24), are also seeking treatment for substance use disorders with more frequency (SAMHSA, 2015).

As a result, addiction treatment providers are experiencing an increased opportunity to link emerging adults in early recovery (who plan to enter or return to college) with collegiate recovery programs, which provide recovery-safe fun on a college campus and recovery and academic support. Linking emerging adults with collegiate recovery programs during primary addiction treatment can be a daunting task: Considerations include school admissions deadlines, program fit for the individual and school location. Here, we outline strategies and tools to link college-bound emerging adults to collegiate recovery programs to provide a seamless transition and maximal recovery support following residential treatment.

Defining Collegiate Recovery

Collegiate recovery programs provide college students with a campus-based, recovery-friendly space and a supportive, sober community (Laudet, 2016). These programs provide “educational opportunities alongside recovery support to ensure students do not have to sacrifice one for the other” (Allison, 2015). The services and supports offered with these programs vary. Collegiate recovery programs differ in availability of academic support, space on campus for students to spend free time, sober leisure activities, and on-campus or off-campus sober housing (Laudet et al, 2014).

Defining an optimal outcome of treatment and support as both full remission and full recovery five years after the conclusion of all professional support provides a goal, standard and framework within which clinicians and CRPs can function (DuPont, Compton and McLellan, 2015) to heighten recovery rates of those served. Likewise, conducting recovery planning from both a person-centered approach and a multiyear vantage point can provide emerging adults with a concrete goal and process to follow. One trajectory to consider would begin in residential treatment, then transition to a sober living community near a collegiate recovery community.

For example, a 21-year-old male who completed two years of college began his recovery experience in residential treatment for his substance use disorder. Following residential treatment, he transferred to a sober living residence. Because he planned to return to a university, it was helpful for him to choose sober living near the school that he was interested in attending. This allowed for integration into the local recovery community, the opportunity to gain valuable recovery time in that social context, and time to clarify hoped-for and feared “possible selves” and related educational goals (Dunkle, C.; Kelts, D;. & Coon, B., 2006). He engaged in a collegiate recovery program for the duration of his undergraduate degree and lived in on-campus recovery support housing. This provided him with the structure, accountability and support he needed during his first five years of recovery in an otherwise “abstinence-hostile” environment (Russell, Cleveland & Wiebe, 2010).

Making the Connection

There are some strategies that help the person served to make the connection between residential treatment programs and CRPs and that increase the chances of a successful and smooth transition. The initial interaction that a prospective patient has with their primary treatment provider is an excellent starting point.

Adding discussion topics and questions concerning educational and career goals to the pre-admission screening process provides clinical staff with important information about the student before they arrive for treatment. The primary clinician can ask emerging adults about their plans to return to or begin an educational process. Starting this discussion early in the residential treatment process is critical; it can help ensure person-centered goals and longer-term future planning are a key focus of treatment, providing an incentive for ongoing recovery.

Involving the family is another valuable strategy. College-bound emerging adults may have some degree of financial and emotional dependence on parents and other family supports.  Families are not always aware of the options available on college campuses for students in recovery.

As the emerging adult continues in treatment and begins to make decisions about continuing care, it can be helpful to gain information about various CRPs and how they differ. It can be helpful for clinicians to facilitate information-gathering phone calls where the emerging adult can learn about the relevant CRP, connect with the staff and students, and get a feel for what they value in the program. Collegiate recovery program staff can also provide valuable information and referrals to the residential treatment provider and student for sober living programs and continuing care clinicians near the university. Collegiate recovery programs frequently require a minimum amount of sober time for eligibility prior to entry to the CRP. Students may choose to live in a sober living community to continue recovery support before entering a collegiate recovery program.

Despite a potential delayed entry, it can be helpful to have the student sign a release of information and make contact prior to discharge from primary treatment. This allows the primary clinician to make contact and be involved in the process from the beginning.

The student may need to begin taking classes at a community college in order to improve their grade point average to gain admission to a university. There are also collegiate recovery communities and programs at community colleges that support people who are in early recovery.

Collaborating with Professional Monitoring Organizations

Depending on the chosen profession, support from the collegiate recovery program can include providing early information and linkage toward enrollment in the relevant professional monitoring organization (PMO). These programs provide recovery support and advocacy for students pursuing a license and career in nursing, medicine, law, and other advanced-degree or licensed professions. It is vital for the staff of collegiate recovery programs and professional monitoring organizations to make themselves and their program policies and practices known to one another for the sake of optimal support of the student during their academic and early-career training timeline (Coon, 2015).

Effective collaboration between CRPs and PMOs will provide the student with hope (versus the belief it is impossible to successfully navigate professional licensing requirements, given their personal history), promote anonymity when needed, as well as maximize seamless accountability and advocacy.

In a 2016 survey of students involved in collegiate recovery in North Carolina, only 10 percent of students heard about their collegiate recovery program from a source outside the university (Dooley, 2016). As the numbers of young people seeking recovery and the availability of collegiate recovery programs increase, so does the need for primary treatment providers to become educated and actively involved in the process of linking emerging adults to collegiate recovery programs. Primary treatment providers can and should play a large part in educating emerging adults and their families to provide uninterrupted support, accountability and a positive learning environment for emerging adults in recovery seeking higher education.

Kelsey Crowe is a therapist in the women’s primary treatment program at Pavillon. She has worked in a variety of settings in the mental health and substance use disorder field since 2009.

Bob Hennen, formerly a counselor in the emerging adults program at Pavillon, currently works as a therapist at Silver Ridge focusing on mid-life adults.

Brian Coon serves as director of clinical programs at Pavillon. He has worked in various addiction treatment settings and services, including co-occurring psychiatric disorders, since 1988.

Allison, F. (2015). Collegiate Recovery Programs. PowerPoint presented at the North Carolina Advocacy Alliance Summit. Greensboro, NC.

Coon, B.  (2015).  Recovering Students Need Support as They Transition. Addiction Professional. 13(1): 22-26.

Dooley, B. (2016, May). NC Collegiate Recovery Program Satisfaction and Impact Survey, Spring 2016. PowerPoint presented at North Carolina Collegiate Recovery Summit. Mill Spring, NC.

DuPont, R. L., Compton, W. M., & McLellan, A. T. (2015). Five-year recovery: A new standard for assessing effectiveness of substance use disorder treatment. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 58, 1-5.

Dunkle, C., Kelts, D. & Coon, B. (2006).  Possible Selves as Mechanisms of Change in Therapy, in C. Dunkle & J. Kerpelman (Eds.)  Possible Selves: Theory, Research and Application. (pp. 186-204).  Nova Publishers.

Laudet, A., Harris, K. Kimball, T. Winters, K. C., & Moberg, D. P. (2014). Collegiate recovery communities programs: What do we know and what do we need to know? Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions, 14(1), 84-100. doi: 10.1080/1533256X.2014.872015

Laudet, A. B. (2016). Characteristics of students participating in Collegiate Recovery Programs: Implications for clinicians. Counselor, 17(1), 58-61.

Russell, M., Cleveland, H. H., & Wiebe, R. P. (2010). Facilitating identity development in collegiate recovery: An Eriksonian perspective. In Cleveland, H. H., Harris, K. S., Wiebe, R. P. (Eds.), Substance Abuse Recovery in College. (pp. 1-8). Advancing Responsible Adolescent Development. New York, NY: Springer Science+Business Media, LLC.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Behavioral Health Barometer: United States, 2015. HHS Publication No. SMA–16–Baro–2015. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2015.

Written by Kelsey Crowe, Bob Hennen and Brian Coon

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