A college recovery program – what is it?

A college recovery program – what is it?


A safe place

College recovery programs are now more relevant than ever.   Called CRPs for short, these are campus-based communities of students who previously struggled with substance abuse.   The program usually works by ‘peers educating peers’ with the support of a small number of professionals.


College recovery programs started popping up from the late 70s when recovered college students found that colleges themselves are not supportive environments for those who previously had problems with substance abuse.   


In fact, colleges were a threat to recovery and sobriety.   CRPs provide a continuum of care between high school and college and even post-graduation.  The very first university that introduced a CRP was Brown University in 1970.


At present, close to 100 higher education institutions nationwide gives recovery support or are developing it.   


A culture of substance abuse


Unfortunately, it cannot be ignored:   the college environment is often defined by drinking and excessive drug use.   For someone in recovery, support in this environment is crucial.




Students who previously had problems with substance abuse in high school already enter college feeling disconnected from their peers.   They fought so much, and new stressors such as adjusting to academic demands, financial pressures, and freedom from parents can all add up.   It is often easy to fall back into old habits.


The stressors can be so challenging that some students (who were committed to staying sober) might even choose to drop out of school instead of risking relapse.   It is not always a good decision:  a fulfilling and prosperous career can serve as a long-term recovery protector.


This is where a college recovery program can make a difference.  It helps students pursue their education and sustain their recovery.  It gives students specialized and strategic support to have the whole college experience without regrets.  


Defining 'recovery.'


Recovery is not only about getting sober.   There is no magical 'cure.' Recovery is about being positive, well, and growing as a person.   It is an all-encompassing process, and it requires support and effort to be successful.   




Do we have statistics?  


Unfortunately, we don’t know how many college students in America are in recovery.    


The ‘Substance Abuse and Mental Health Data Archive' estimated in 2014 that more than 250,000 college students have received treatment for substance abuse at some time or another.   One can guess that they needed support afterward.   


In the same year, almost 40% of American college students said they binge drink, and about one million students met the clinical criteria for alcohol or drug dependence.   We suspect the situation has not improved much in 2021.   


Can a college student ‘recover’ on his own?


It isn't very likely.   If a student should continue to meet up with friends who drink or use drugs, relapse is almost guaranteed.   On the other side of the spectrum, having a solid support network counterweights and sustain recovery.   


What do colleges do to help?  


Internal services can play a considerable role to support recovery because it is usually tailored to address the unique stressors that college student may face.


A typical CRP might have:


  • 12-step meetings on campus
  • Housing where only sober students can stay.
  • Social events without alcohol or drugs
  • Drop-in safe spaces
  • Professional staff and counseling services.


Of course, the program of each CRP will differ depending on the size of the campus and the availability of financial resources.    Some recovery programs may even have their members sign a sobriety contract to promise to maintain a minimum GPA and attend support meetings.


‘Is it for me?’


A peer-and-support network as part of a college recovery program can be vital for students in recovery.  In fact, most students in CRPs join because they believe in the power of the network.   About one-third of students also join a college recovery program because it offered them safe spaces to escape to.   


What can be better for your sobriety than having a same-age support group that traverses the 'abstinence-hostile' environment with you?   Without it, college life can be highly stressful.


CRPs can also:


  • Nudge 'outside' students to take a step towards sobriety if they are already thinking about it.
  • Have a positive influence on reducing the substance abuse of peers because they now have access to the real stories of others that can dispel the allure of abusive drinking.
  • Offer students without a history of substance abuse a way to have fun in a safe environment.




CRPs can help students stay sober, but it can also help them stay in school and excel in what they do.   


Preliminary research already suggested that schools with CRPs contribute to better academic outcomes and successful recovery.   Data sets show that students in college recovery programs have a 90% graduation rate, compared to 60% across the ‘normal’ institutions.


College recovery programs give students traction in recovery early on.   Becoming sober and staying sober opens the door to hope, connection, and strength that can inspire a humble and empathic perspective on life.  


It is part of Largest Heart's mission to offer information and education.   


Perhaps a college recovery program is how your recovering student can become who he was meant to be.   Academic success gives him legitimate merit in the real world, and it can be possible because of the community of support.   Find a list of universities with recovery programs for US students here.