When people think of college students, stereotypical images may come to mind: eighteen to twenty-two-year-olds, cheering at games, studying occasionally, and perhaps eating ramen in a cheap apartment. Other stereotypes may include the “jock” or student athlete, “Greeks” or fraternity and sorority types, and the “geek” or “nerd.” One of the more common stereotypes of college students is the student attending wild parties with lots of alcohol and the thought that as students begin exploring their new freedoms, they may lose sight of some of their school responsibilities. There may be some  truth to that. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, for example, found that nearly 60% of students aged 18-22 drank alcohol within the last month, of which 20% met the criteria for an alcohol use disorder (AUD). But while some current students fit some of these stereotypes, that can’t be said for all students. Individuals who are older, attend school part time, or have families make up a significant percentage of students, and they often feel out of place and somewhat neglected compared to the 18-22-year-old “traditional” student (Macdonald, K. 2018). And there is still another oft-forgotten group that has traditionally faced additional challenges in the confines of the college environment: students in recovery from alcohol and other substances.

Students with a history of substance use disorders span all ages, cultures, and college majors.  They may have taken diverging paths to eventually arrive in a college classroom.  Many students are older and face challenges similar to those faced by other “non-traditional” students.  The paths of students in recovery are unique to each individual but the overall goal of making it through college while abstinent and/or sober is shared.  For a person in recovery, fitting into the university culture, coupled with different goals and responsibilities from those of “traditional” students, is often extremely challenging (Laudet et al, 2014).  For traditional students, clubs or organizations (Greek and other), and sports teams filled the need for social engagement and sense of community with like-minded peers. However, until recently, a community of peers for fun and social support for abstinence didn’t exist on campuses for individuals in recovery.

According to the Association of Recovery in Higher Education (ARHE) a CRC is a

supportive environment within the campus culture that reinforces the decision to disengage from addictive behavior.  It is designed to provide an educational opportunity alongside recovery support to ensure that students do not have to sacrifice one for the other.”

According to the detailed history on the website, the foundations for CRCs began in 1977 at Brown University and then at continued at Rutgers University in 1983. These first schools brought recovery services to schools.  However, a more fully developed CRC didn’t begin until Texas Tech University created their Center for the Study of Addictions in 1986.  Since then peer driven Collegiate Recovery Programs (CRPs) and other CRCs have sprung up across the nation.

Dr. Meri Shadley, Director of the University of Nevada Reno’s Collegiate Recovery Community, succinctly explains how the movement transitioned to today’s current landscape.  She explained that many schools wanted to aid students, but until recently no formal structure existed for developing Collegiate Recovery Programs.  As they established new CRPs, most schools adapted their programs to what resources they had and located them according to what department in their specific institution supported their vision.  Most CRP’s received support from a combination of offices of residential life, student conduct, and counseling services, and/or a specific department.  Residential life programs created specific sober dorms with programing that helped students maintain their sobriety.  Counseling and Student Conduct programs helped create and support activities like 12-step meetings and other self-help programs. Some programs were fortunate enough to get support for a recovery friendly space: often a room where staff and peers helped enhance education, developed peer communities and supported student’s emotional growth and recovery.  While these early programs varied greatly, research showed that students who participated in such programs had better educational and recovery outcomes than those students who did not participate (Laudet et al, 2015). Over time, according to Dr. Shadley, students in recovery began attending universities specifically where they felt supported in their efforts to remain abstinent.

Since the early 2000s the number of CRP’s have quadrupled, thanks largely to better organization at the national level, governmental support, and shared knowledge across institutions.  In 2004 a “replication” grant from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) was granted to Texas Tech University to better share their institutional knowledge with other institutions looking to create their own programs.  Utilizing the funding from the SAMHSA grant, Texas Tech created a step by step curriculum based on these four-steps:

  1. Creating the Vision
  2. Making the Vision a Reality
  3. Putting the Program to Work
  4. Program evaluation

Also, during the mid-2000s, the ARHE was formed to bring to bring institutional providers of CRPs and their students together to learn and grow both individually and as institutions in developing campus programs. This process brought some sense of organization and community at the national level.  Due to new research looking at the overall successes of the Collegiate Recovery movement and the issues with substance misuse across the nation, the government began making changes at the federal level. According to Collegiate Recovery Communities Programs: What Do We Know and What Do We Need to Know, this shift occurred because of the growing recognition by institutions and federal agencies of “youth substance use and in particular, campus-based use, as a major health concern, and federal agencies’ shift to a recovery-oriented ‘chronic care’ approach to SUD services” (Laudet et al, 2014).   Overall this decade brought great growth to CRCs nationwide and set the stage for the next decade and beyond.

The 2010s have brought new ideas, institutions, and supporters to the campus recovery movement.  Reno-based organization Transforming Youth Recovery (TYR) has provided grants to over 124 different schools since 2013 as more schools are seeing the value of CRCs and CRPs.  While the specifics of campus recovery programs/communities often vary organizationally, research looking at the recovery programs found many similarities. Most current programs are “peer driven, 12-step based, and provide onsite support groups, alcohol free or sober events, and seminars on substance use disorder (SUD) and recovery” (Laudet et al, 2015).  As more programs are established and recovering students advocate for services, ARHE has responded by strengthening its support efforts.  ARHE now provides leadership opportunities for students, annual conferences for CRP staff, and increased technical assistance through SAMHSA’s Bringing Recovery Supports to Scale Technical Assistance Center Strategy (BRSS TACS).  ARHE has helped CRPs and CRCs gain additional support from University administrators and instilled best practice guidelines to support communities throughout the nation. The ARHE established standards are:

  • CRPs embrace abstinence-based recovery as the standard of our field.
  • CRPs are housed within an Institution of Higher Education that confers academic degrees (e.g., associates, bachelors, masters, and/or doctorate degrees).
  • CRPs are non-profit entities.
  • CRPs have paid qualified, trained, ethical, and dedicated professionals who support students in recovery.
  • CRPs provide a variety of recovery support services to assist students in maintaining and protecting their recovery.
  • CRPs have within them a collegiate recovery community with students in recovery from their alcoholism and/or drug addiction as the primary focus
  • CRPs do best with a dedicated physical space for students in recovery to gather and offer peer support to one another.

At the University of Nevada, Reno, NRAP has taken these national standards to heart to create a very successful CRC.

NRAP LogoDeveloped in 2011 by Dr. Meri Shadley and Daniel Fred and funded by the Stacie Mathewson Foundation and TYR in 2012, NRAP is part of the student services arm of CASAT.  It was designed to incorporate the multiple aspects of CRCs and CRPs, plus provide an inclusive atmosphere where any student wishing to live a sober lifestyle (recovering students, allies, and students contemplating change) may connect and support each other’s healthy lifestyle.  NRAP offers a drop-in center, daily recovery and wellness meetings, and staff direction and support with the goal of helping students to connect, grow, and thrive while succeeding academically at UNR. With three levels of membership, students may become a member of the student organization and visit the drop-in center periodically or they may become a peer member whereby they are actively involved with the program on a weekly basis. With longevity and commitment to sobriety and NRAP, peer members can choose to become mentors and peer support specialists.

NRAP’s open door policy welcomes any student recovering from substance, behavioral, and mental health issues with the goal of succeeding in a substance-free environment. NRAP’s peer driven approach promotes empathic living through wellness programing and student ownership in the Center. By providing easy access to the drop-in lounge, groups, academic support, social events, and like-minded peers, NRAP members assist each other and interested visitors to more easily traverse the rocky road of living sober and healthy in college.  Existing groups include typical recovery groups but also groups for those students who have struggled with eating disorders, co-occurring disorders, and trauma. Previous internship placements have allowed human services majors and other interested students an avenue for facilitating support groups and 12-step groups, getting the word out about recovery, and assisting members in learning how to tell their stories more effectively. Interns and NRAP members are afforded the opportunity to apply their lived experiences to their academic educations in an atmosphere of mutual respect.

Nearly seven years after its founding, NRAP is still successfully reaching its goals.  UNR President Marc Johnson institutionalized NRAP in 2015 by putting a line item in the budget for a staff position and committing to continue providing permanent space for NRAP.  Also, in 2015, NRAP hosted the 5th annual ARHE conference showcasing the commitment and quality of a program only four years old.  Hosting the conference brought NRAP into the spotlight of CRPs around the country and initiated the movement towards including allies (students who aren’t in recovery but chose to be sober or abstinent) along with recovering students, a big point of pride for NRAP.  During its tenure NRAP has hosted numerous school-wide events, including Fifty Shades of Recovery, an event that features individuals in recovery as they each share individual paths to sobriety.  At the academic level, students in the program have a high GPA (3.4 in Spring 2018) and graduated 12 students last year alone. Though NRAP is a college-based program, there is a commitment to the value of the greater community and to encouraging members to stay connected through volunteer events.  NRAP has an active community network which is composed of students, parents, and staff, and is chaired by longtime UNR supporter Tom Hall.  The events and programs, along with the overall sense of community within NRAP and the hard work of individual members, have helped most students maintain their sobriety or abstinence during their challenging college careers.

NRAP has been successful because of strong leadership, including current program coordinator Jordan Baez, and due to the commitment of its students.  NRAP was founded and continues to function from a foundation of a variety of best practices and an eclectic approach of choosing what works best for the individual program. For example, the core group of NRAP students have been very close. Research shows that bonding is one of the most important protective factors for reducing or preventing substance use (Fisher, G. L., & Harrison, T. C., 2009). Research also provides evidence-based interventions on how to use bonding to turn reduce substance use among young people (Griffin, K. W., & Botvin, G. J., 2010).  By facilitating strong bonding using programming based on research, NRAP has achieved great success over the years and has helped build a positive foundation to support NRAP moving forward. Additionally, the inclusive environment has added an aspect to collegiate recovery that was not originally a part of most CRPs and CRCs.

Other institutions in the Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) have campus recovery programs that have adapted to meet the needs of students at each specific school. As the needs for students at Truckee Meadows are different than that at a four-year school, a student club version of a CRC better fits its student demographic. Student leadership in the Washoe County recovery community assists in sustaining this club approach. In Las Vegas, a different struggle helped shape UNLV’s unique recovery community. As UNLV is primarily a commuter campus, their recovery community became a “sober bubble” where recovering students met on campus to study, work out, and go to meetings. Many of these student’s additional needs are already getting met off campus.  While neither UNLV or TMCC follow the CRP model in the same ways as NRAP, both schools provide support for recovering students and show that even in a state known for substance misuse, institutions of higher education are making an effort.

The collegiate recovery movement is primed to continue growing as thirty-eight new CRCs are receiving TYR funding this year.  Research shows that an acute clinical care model alone is insufficient to sustain youths’ treatment gains and achieve long-term recovery (Laudet et al, 2014).  These collegiate recovery programs fill in the necessary gaps for improved success for those students trying to live a sober lifestyle.  Students in collegiate recovery programs generally perform better academically than both the student body at large and the national average at their school. Academic achievement, both GPA and graduation rates, “surpass the host institution’s overall outcomes” (Laudet et al, 2015). Moreover, on a personal level these communities provide a place where students can feel accepted for who they are as a person now, rather than just being known for their past behaviors.  One final thought: the 10th annual National Collegiate Recovery Conference takes place in Boston June 29-July 2 this year.

Look forward to future articles on important Nevada behavioral health topics on CASAT OnDemand


Bugbee, B.A., Caldeira, K.M., Soong, A.M., Vincent, K.B., Arria, A.M. (2016). Collegiate recovery programs: A win-win proposition for students and colleges. College Park, MD: Center on Young Adult Health and Development. Available at http://www.cls.umd.edu/docs/CRP.pdf. doi:10.13140/RG.2.2.21549.08160

Cleveland, H. Harrington, Kitty S. Harris, Amanda K. Baker, Richard Herbert, and Lukas R. Dean. Characteristics of a Collegiate Recovery Community: Maintaining Recovery in an Abstinence-Hostile Environment. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment 33, no. 1 (July 2007): 13-23.

Cleveland, H. Harrington, Kitty S. Harris, and Richard P. Wiebe, eds. Substance Abuse Recovery in College: Community Supported Abstinence. Advancing Responsible Adolescent Development. New York: Springer, 2010).

Fisher, G. L., & Harrison, T. C.  (2009). Substance Abuse: Information for school counselors, social workers, therapists, and counselors, Pearson Education, Inc

Griffin, K. W., & Botvin, G. J. (2010). Evidence-Based Interventions for Preventing Substance Use Disorders in Adolescents. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 19(3), 505-526. doi:10.1016/j.chc.2010.03.005

Harris, K., Baker, A., Kimball, T., & Shumway, S. (2007). Achieving Systems-Based Sustained Recovery: A

Comprehensive Model for Collegiate Recovery Communities. Journal of Groups in Addiction & Recovery, 2(2-4), 220-237. doi:10.1080/15560350802080951.

Knight, John R., Henry Wechsler, Meichun Kuo, Mark Seibring, Elissa R. Weitzman, and Marc A. Schuckit. Alcohol Abuse and Dependence among U.S. College Students. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs 63, no. 3 (May 1, 2002): 263.

Laudet, A. B., Harris, K., Kimball, T., Winters, K. C., & Moberg, D. P. (2015). Characteristics of Students Participating in Collegiate Recovery Programs: A National Survey. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 51, 38-46. doi:10.1016/j.jsat.2014.11.004

Laudet, Alexandre, Kitty Harris, Thomas Kimball, Ken C. Winters, and D. Paul Moberg. Collegiate Recovery Communities Programs: What Do We Know and What Do We Need to Know? Journal of Social Work Practice in the Addictions 14, no. 1 (January 2014): 84-100.

Macdonald, K. (2018). A Review of the Literature: The Needs of Nontraditional Students in Postsecondary Education. Strategic Enrollment Management Quarterly, 5(4), 159-164. doi:10.1002/sem3.20115

Smock, Sara A., Amanda K. Baker, Kitty S. Harris, and Cynthia D’Sauza. The Role of Social Support in Collegiate Recovery Communities: A Review of the Literature. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly 29, no. 1 (January 2011): 35-44.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.