Students and faculty battle recovery stigma through on-campus programs

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In 2005, about 59 percent of Minnesota college students reported that they engaged in high-risk drinking on a regular basis. As of 2015, the rate is 29 percent. These statistics from the University of Minnesota’s College Health Survey administered to 19 Minnesota schools show the effort SCSU has put into changing the image of a party school to a school that promotes prevention and recovery.

At this time of year the Student Life and Development office sends out the annual notification of the Alcohol and Other Drug Policies. This notice is used to remind faculty and students of the standards of conduct on campus, but it points out the greater efforts made by university officials on the breakdown of college consumption. Prevention and awareness on campus has become a fight for school officials attempting to show the St. Cloud community that the college is moving towards a cleaner, and more understanding future.

Assistant Dean of Students Jennifer Matske leads the fight in prevention and believes that SCSU’s statistical success is an example of the university’s high-quality progressive programs.

“We have a lot of tools available to students,” Matske said. “We want students to find ways to socialize and get involved on campus. The biggest issue is destroying the norm that all students drink.”

Matske believes that many students use alcohol as a social tool, and students coming into college drink more heavily because they believe that is what they are supposed to do. The glorification of college parties and heavy alcohol consumption is a leading factor in the stigma that surrounds universities. Matske says that the way to increase prevention is by showing that students are participating in those activities less every day, and that the faculty are there to help.

“We don’t want to portray ourselves as the fun police,” she said. “We want to help students find safe ways to connect with each other.”

Programs on campus like U-Choose, educate students on the negative impacts that underage drinking can have. Along with safe drinking tips, the school’s website offers students guidance on what to do when they find themselves in difficult situations involving alcohol and drugs. This judgement-free attitude encourages students to come forward if they’re having problems. While SCSU is a dry campus, the college recognizes that consumption does happen in social settings and urges students to ask for help when needed. SCSU prides itself on the recovery programs offered to students, now sending out a “Huskies in Recovery” newsletter highlighting students who are in recovery, along with promoting supportive events going on around campus.

While many people in the recovery community have stepped forward to tell their stories, anonymity is recognized as an important part of the road to sobriety. In an effort to respect the privacy of those who wish to talk about their journey, last names are traditionally abbreviated.

Jacob G., a sophomore at SCSU, understands the struggles of addiction, and the importance of having a supportive community.

“Recovering from addiction is simple, but it isn’t easy,” Jacob said. “The best attitude to have is understanding that you’re going into something that most people fail at.”

Jacob started his journey when he was 13 years old, getting involved in alcohol and turning to drugs later in his life. Having undergone years of addiction, it wasn’t until he was 18 that he first attempted to start the battle for sobriety.

“It was difficult,” Jacob said. “Recognizing the symptoms and separating myself from the people leading me down that path was probably the kindest thing I could do.”

Jacob is now 15 months sober and takes part in the Lutheran campus ministry, saying that faith is what has gotten him through his addiction. He now looks forward to a career in counselling, hoping to turn some of his painful experiences of addiction into a positive message for people coming into the recovery program.

“It’s progressed as part of my story, but it’s not definitive of who I am,” he said.

This positivism in the recovery community is shared by others as the stigma of those in recovery is lessened every day. People are beginning to understand the complexities that go into addiction. Everything from genetics to personality traits are considered as factors of addiction, including high-stress levels found in college students.

Director of Counseling and Psychological Services John Eggers says that people can turn to alcohol and drugs because of anxiety and depression. The brain stimulation of the chemicals causes people to lose control and creates an illusion of happiness.

“The earlier you start using, the greater the likelihood you will develop an addiction,” Eggers said.

Eggers suggests reducing the risk for addiction by exercising and getting involved in healthy relationships to avoid great amounts of stress and anxiety. He suggests taking the school’s free online assessments if you are concerned about your alcohol consumption. While there is a difference between excessive drinking and addiction, one sign of problem is if the drinking is getting in the way of your personal control.

Addiction affects many people, and Eggers urges students to talk to a counselor if they have a friend or loved one going through it. While nobody can force a person to go into recovery, it helps to be surrounded by people who understand the struggle of addiction. Matske and Eggers encourage students to avoid peer pressure by getting involved in groups on campus that actively don’t drink. SCSU’s prevention and recovery community welcomes all students who seek guidance.

Over the past decade, SCSU has worked hard to change its image for future students. Today, students and faculty battle to further SCSU’s involvement in different recovery programs as the struggle to change the social norm of college life continues.