By Kaitlyn Vicars
For September’s article, I’ll be discussing a topic that impacts me daily, National Recovery Month, and how it may directly or indirectly affect you, as well as next steps to take. Transparently, I have been sober for 6.5 years. I realized a long time ago that my relationship with alcohol was not healthy, and in saying that, I ask you to understand that everyone struggling or experiencing recovery has a different level of acceptance of what is healthy. Every situation is different, so it’s important that we don’t put our own perception or stigma on what someone else struggling with alcohol may look like.
From the student housing side, many of you work directly with residents having their first independent experiences. While, historically, some college students have struggled with alcohol, recent studies show there are some changes in college drinking: “COVID-19-related increases in drinking frequency were accompanied by decreases in quantity, heavy drinking, and drunkenness. Both studies also provided evidence of reductions in social drinking with friends and roommates and at parties and increased drinking with family. Participants confirmed that their drinking decreased due to reduced social opportunities and/or settings, limited access to alcohol, and reasons related to health and self-discipline. Increases were attributed to greater opportunity (more time) and boredom and to a lesser extent, lower perceived risk of harm, and to cope with distress.”
However, frequency is still a concern, particularly with high-intensity drinking: “In 2021, 13.1% of young adults had 10+ drinks in a row in the past 2 weeks, which was the highest recorded since it was first measured in 2005.” Finding activities that our residents can participate in not only increases social connection and eliminates boredom, it also provides a way to impact someone’s life for the positive. Alcohol use is sometimes glorified and encouraged on college campuses, but the result can be life ending if habits continue in young adults: “Alcohol consumption causes death and disability relatively early in life. In people aged 20–39 years, approximately 13.5% of total deaths are attributable to alcohol.”
When we look at our day-to-day lives outside of student housing, there’s a one in five chance that someone you know struggles with alcohol use. In 2020, the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics reported that 28.320 million people dealt with an alcohol use disorder. That means that out of every five co-workers you know, one is probably struggling. Or as you gather around a Thanksgiving meal, someone may be struggling. Or at a sporting event, at least one person in your row may struggling. That person also may be you or someone you care about and love. I use these stats to tell you that you are not alone.
Additionally, recovery doesn’t just concern alcohol; it covers substances and illegal drugs, as well. The opioid pandemic is still happening at an astonishing rate with accidental drug overdose being the leading cause of death among people under the age of 45; “in 2017, 67.8% of the 70,237 drug overdose deaths were opioid-related.” It’s also critical to note there’s a distinct correlation between mental health and addiction. Multiple national surveys found that approximately 50% of those who experience a mental illness will also experience a substance use disorder and vice versa.
Some of the issues discussed in this article may impact you personally or someone you know, so what can you do to help yourself or them with a drug or alcohol issue? I want to offer tips from my journey of recovery, and I truly hope it helps — even if it only helps one person, it will be worth it.
Let the people who care for you know you are struggling. On the flip side of this, be open to receiving and processing the news from someone you care about. Opening up to someone is usually an indicator that someone is ready for help and looking for accountability.
Reduce the Stigma
Having open conversations with our families, workplaces, and social support systems can help people realize they are not alone and that this can happen to anyone. If you are struggling, be open. If you are active in recovery, sharing your story as well as your progress can help others know they aren’t alone and know that recovery doesn’t look like a single type of person or situation. Addiction and struggle can impact anyone, anywhere.
With the stigma reduced, there are so many resources in so many different forums: in person, online, one on one, group, self-support, family support, free, low cost, and more. Googling “recovery resources” with your ZIP code can provide pages of resources. If the person struggling is a Campus Advantage employee, EAP can also provide resources or additional research. If the person is a student, there are most likely resources available through the college or university they attend.
When entering recovery, individuals can feel alienated and alone, so it’s important to be aware of this whether you know someone is in recovery or just struggling. Hosting an event? Include fun and alcohol-free beverage options. Join that person in healthy activities that don’t include substances. You can also go to a family meeting while your family member goes to their recovery meeting, and if you are starting recovery, ask for those you care about to attend a meeting with you.
Care is not hard, and even though it’s free, it often gets disregarded in the day to day. Let someone who is struggling know that you care, and if you are struggling, be vocal in asking for others to check in on you. Saying “I need support” and then sharing what that looks like is good communication and leaves little roomfor misinterpretation.
If you or someone you know needs help to stop using substances, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration national helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or TTY: 1-800-487-4889, or text your ZIP code to 435748 (HELP4U).
If you are feeling alone and having thoughts of suicide or know someone who is, don’t remain silent. Talk to someone you trust, call or text 988, or visit www.988lifeline.org to talk to someone online.
To reduce the stigma and share the resources, share the Campus Advantage Instagram post about National Recovery Month and you’ll be entered for a chance to receive a $35 CLEAN Cause gift card. The Austin-based company supports recovery with its message, and 50% of net profits go to recovery support. To date, they have provided $1,634,000 to support recovery from alcohol and drug addictions.