Recovery High Schools and College Dorms Helping Young People Across the Country

Today, high school and college students recovering from substance abuse have an alternative to going back to their old schools and old drug scares. Recovery high schools and recovery college dorms are slowly appearing across the country, and are doing wonders at helping adolescents and college students maintain their sobriety without removing them from a traditional learning environment.

Close to two million students meet the criteria for drug or alcohol abuse in America. Less than eight percent actually receive the treatment they need. Those who do get treatment routinely return to the schools they left in order to recover. And 75 percent of those students have a relapse within their first year of recovery.

High schools designed for students in recovery, however, are something of a 21st century phenomenon and still a relatively new concept, though very successful. But they are producing success story after success story. One student from Northshore Recovery High School in Beverly, MA, was quoted as saying, “Without this school, I really don’t believe that I’d be sober right now, or maybe even alive.”

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First Recovery High School Opened in 1987

Recovery High Schools

Schools and school programs that support recovery are of huge importance for young people trying to live their lives drug-free.

The first recovery high school in the U.S., “Sobriety High,” opened in 1987 in Minnesota. Back then, it was just one of only a few recovery high schools dotted around the country. Today, there are at least 35 such recovery high schools, with at least five more in the works. That number is still painfully low, however, especially considering the number of students who currently need treatment, and then will need help staying clean.

While the characteristics of each recovery school differ, they are all focused on the same goal, fueled by empathy for the students. Not only do the teachers give it their all to help these students struggling with recovery and give them unconditional support, but the students also have each other to lean on in a way that is not possible at a traditional school.

Most recovery high schools are publicly funded and small, but the philosophy can vary from school to school. Northshore Recory High, in Beverly, MA, is funded by a grant through the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. The grant, which was originally set up by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, allots the school $500,000 a year, and each student is tied to a tuition grant from their district. Parents at Northshore don’t pay a dime, which is true for most recovery schools, but some are privately funded.

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47,300* People Addicted
23,100* Getting Help
8,209* Deaths
*Statistic from 2015

Creating a Nurturing Environment on College Campuses

There is a parallel effort taking place on college campuses around the country right now, with colleges providing recovery dorms right on campus, so students can stay on campus, but be in a much safer environment for their situation. Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., offered the first college recovery dorms in 1988. Roughly 20 colleges and universities offer official recovery programs, but Rutgers is one of just a few schools that houses dorms specifically designed for students in recovery. A recovery dorm is different from the more often seen “dry” dorms, in that students in recovery dorms do not want to drink or use drugs. Having a recovery community all around them helps them achieve that goal.

The school works to make sure that students who live there aren’t walking around with a stigma following them around the school. Students who live in the dorm support each other in their recovery and form meaningful personal friendships based on their unique college experiences.

Some of the benefits to recovery housing at Rutgers are:

  • The building is an on-campus residence hall.
  • There are no signs identifying it as a different kind of dorm, which protects students’ anonymity.
  • The school provides easy access to university resources such as Rutgers Health Services, which provides alcohol & other drug assistance programs, psychiatric services, medical services, on campus 12-Step meetings and recovery counseling.
  • Recovery Counselors (RC) advise students on academic and career choices.
  • Provide organized activities such as attending sporting events and plays, going on hikes and bike trips, participating in intramurals and other campus events.
  • There is even an option for year-round housing.

“Many of these teens are offered their previous drug of choice on their first day back in school,” said Andy Finch in a previous interview. A professor at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, he is a leader in the development and research of recovery high schools in the U.S “If you’ve gone to treatment, you’ve learned the dangers of your alcohol and drug use and you’ve made a decision to stop,” he said. “For you to go back as a teenager and be right around those same kids again … it’s going to be that much harder to stay with that decision to stop, if all of your buddies are continuing to use.”

One severe drug problem plaguing the nation right now is the abuse of, and addiction to, opiate drugs, and teens are not excluded from this scourge. A survey of more than 46,000 youth conducted by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) Monitoring the Future found an alarming increase in the use of illicit substances. Other findings included the discovery that non-medical use of highly addictive prescription pain medications are on the rise and are being used in relatively high numbers.

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Skeptics of recovery schools are against grouping addicted students together, or being lenient when a student relapses. But teachers report that they have seen positive results when students are offered a welcoming, comforting environment. They say that these are often students who feel they have been left out in the past, or ignored, and being given a second chance, instead of just being excluded again, seems to be what those students need most. And being surrounded by a group of friends who are facing the same challenges only reinforces that feeling of inclusion, a feeling that they belong. Students encourage each other to stay sober just by being in school together and learning from each other how to avoid triggers, or face them when they arise.

The age at which people first try many substances has remained relatively constant, with the age of first use being between 15 and 17 years old. All of this points to high schools, and colleges, as critical focal points when it comes to addressing the effects of a potentially devastating long-term addiction.

Call 800-934-1582(Who Answers?) toll free anytime for help finding treatment.

the Take-Away

Overcoming addiction and living life in recovery can be tough, especially for young people who are just starting to carve their place in the world. Recovery schools help facilitate this new way of life.