Are Sober Dorms Enough For College Students With Addiction?
With the influx of media attention surrounding drug addiction among young people, a trend around select college campuses has been popping up. Certain campuses are offering a new service directed at the community of young students in recovery. Oregon State is one such example, offering a new live-in location directed at supporting young people in recovery. While the concept is certainly laudable, there is concern in the established addiction recovery community that these “sober dorms” are not a complete solution for college students suffering from addiction. Can Sober Dorms replace addiction treatment for students with addiction?
Sober Dorms: What They Are and What They Aren’t
To answer that question, it is first important to understand what sober dorms are, and equally important to understand what they are not. First of all, they are not an ideal fit for students with addiction who are first getting sober. Most reputable sober dorms actually require a minimum amount of time sober before a resident can move in. This is an important fact to remember.
Sober dorms are designed to facilitate a healthy lifestyle in a college environment that is otherwise mired in excessive drinking and drug use. They provide a safer alternative to traditional dormitory living, and often require 12 step meeting attendance for their residents. This model carries a number of benefits to traditional dormitories for students in recovery.
What sober dorms do not do, is provide the initial foundation of recovery that is the de facto barrier to long term sobriety for most young people looking to turn their lives around. Structure, accountability and basic life skills are not focused on – nor are they meant to be. For many entering the sober dorm setting, they already have a substantial amount of time sober under their belt and do not need a primer on the basics of working program. For individuals in this situation, the model can work very well. For someone who is going to college for the first time, who is actively struggling with addiction or who does not have the basic building blocks of successful recovery in place, it can be a much different story.
But Isn’t a Sober Environment Enough?
Unfortunately, if a sober environment was enough for most students with addiction, recovery would be as simple as moving back home with mom and dad or answering a Craigslist ad looking for a roommate who does not drink. The reality of addiction is that environment is *extremely* important – but without the building blocks of recovery in place, not enough.
Research has shown time and time again that an individual’s chances of relapse diminish the longer time sober that they put together. In fact, individuals that make it to 5 years of sobriety have a relapse rate of less than 15 percent. So why do most people fall off the wagon so early in their recovery? Because they lack the fundamentals of working program.
This is not a popular stance by many who are big proponents of the medication maintenance programs. There is a belief that is becoming more widespread that basic recovery principles can be replaced by Suboxone or Methadone. Many claim that abstinence focused recovery sets those with addiction up for failure by attaching shame to relapse. The problem is, abstinence based recovery works. All too often, young people who have not reached a point in their addiction or life to necessitate long term (often life-long) medication maintenance programs, are placed on addictive drugs. This hurts their chances of ever experiencing the freedom of true recovery. While medication maintenance can be a good choice for individuals who have had a long life of opiate abuse and who have little to no chances of ever kicking the habit, it sets young people up for failure.
For young people working to get sober, learning what it means to practice working a program is a much more effective route to take, and necessary if long term sobriety is the goal. In order for a sober environment to work, a resident needs to first have experience staying sober, and have been taught the principles that will allow them to do this.
How To Make Sober Dorms Effective for Students with Addiction
In order for a sober dorm setting to be effective, residents need to come in to the environment with prior experience staying sober, working a program and maintaining their recovery. The idea is a good one, and has a lot of potential for helping young people in recovery navigate the difficulties associated with living a healthy lifestyle while in college. Without building a foundation in recovery first though, they could be a recipe for failure. This means that if long term recovery is the goal, they can’t be looked at as a replacement for the solid foundation of structure and recovery that they are not designed to provide. Young people trying to get sober will still need to look to reputable recovery homes, programs and 12 step programs to provide this foundation. After this has been established, a sober dorm could be a good option.