Abstinence-based Recovery Is the Standard of Our Field


ARHE strongly believes that supporting students in abstinence- based recovery — in an environment that is hostile to abstinence and to abstinence-based recovery — is essential.

The collegiate recovery field continues its rapid growth, and more and more universities and colleges are seeing the importance of providing support to students in recovery. Currently, there are many pathways to recovery. I, as well as the Association of Recovery in Higher Education (ARHE) board, remain open to the evolving landscape and emerging recovery models.

Additionally, as the field grows, we understand that every college and university is different and has its own distinct culture and defining characteristics. It is important to state explicitly that although there have been highly successful collegiate recovery programs (CRPs) in existence for many years, there is no single approach that fits for every college or university.


Although colleges and universities are different in many respects, ARHE and its board members are dedicated to and must ensure the integrity of our institutional members. Thus, we have and will continue to revise the standards of our field.

Standards are incredibly important and offer clear information for students, family members, and college and university officials so that they can make informed decisions. Standards are also offered to help emerging and new CRPs strive for excellence. In the future, such standards will be used by ARHE within an accreditation process that is currently being developed. As we modify and refine expected standards, we will always do so based on what we consider the best practices to date based on the wisdom and experiences of the past 30+ years as well as our understanding of the available research.

There is one ARHE standard that is sometimes controversial and is often debated within our field. ARHE strongly believes that supporting students in abstinence-based recovery — in an environment that is hostile to abstinence and to abstinence-based recovery — is essential. Further, CRPs need specialized programming, services and protected spaces for this vulnerable, marginalized and underserved population.

To expand our thoughts on abstinence-based recovery, we recognize medication-assisted treatment and recovery (MAT/MAR) as an important pathway to recovery. Students in recovery from substance use disorder/addiction may be prescribed an opioid agonist as part of MAT/MAR or may be prescribed medication for mental health diagnoses (e.g., anxiety, depression and attention deficit disorder). We believe that students who are on a MAT/MAR pathway or are taking medication for a mental health condition are not in conflict with abstinence-based recovery, so long as these medications are prescribed and taken appropriately under the supervision of a health care professional.

It is important to state that we collectively recognize that in community populations, alcohol and drug problems are frequently managed in ways that do not include the abstinence-based model (e.g., harm reduction models, moderation, etc.). ARHE is aware there is a great need to support alternatives to problematic alcohol and other drug use and that those in recovery from mental health conditions also require ongoing support on campuses. We strongly encourage colleges and universities to provide these types of services while also encouraging them to provide students in abstinence-based recovery the separate and distinct protection, community and services they need to excel.

Dr. Thomas G. Kimball serves as the president of the Association of Recovery in Higher Education, holds the George C. Miller Family Regents Professor at Texas Tech University and is the director of the Center for Collegiate Recovery Communities. In addition to his responsibilities at Texas Tech, Kimball is the clinical director for MAP Health Management. He has received numerous teaching awards for his courses on families, addiction and recovery. He is the author of several peer-reviewed articles on addiction and recovery and has presented on recovery-related issues across the nation. He is the co-author of the book Six Essentials to Achieve Lasting Recovery


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