The path of addiction recovery for young people is challenging. They report multiple behavioral health issues, and the prospect of college can be daunting, with high rates of ‘partying’ on campuses. The solution may include providing long-term recovery support, which shows some encouraging outcomes.

We recently completed the first nationwide study of CRPs and their students. These Collegiate Recovery Programs (CRPs) are a rapidly growing model of campus-based recovery support that capitalizes on peer support among recovering college students.

The federally funded study surveyed 486 CRP students across 29 sites nationwide in 2013.  Though short in duration, students’ substance use history was intensive and severe. Alcohol, prescription pain medication, marijuana and cocaine were the most cited problem substances, and polysubstance use was generally the norm.

One third of the students had experienced a period of homelessness and more than half reported past involvement with the criminal justice system, both likely consequences of their substance use. Students had been in addiction recovery for an average of 3 years. Most had gotten treatment and attended 12-step starting in late adolescence.

Notably, students also reported several behavioral heath issues in addition to their history of drugs and alcohol problems. Three quarters had received a mental health diagnosis and 40% currently smoke, twice the national rate in that age group or overall. What’s more, close to 20% reported being in recovery from one or more behavioral addictions especially disordered eating, sex and love addiction, and self harm, and 12% had engaged in at least of these unhealthy behaviors in the past 3 months.

Very high rates of comorbid behavioral health problems among people in addiction recovery may be common knowledge among clinicians, but so far they have been largely unexplored. More importantly, comorbid behavioral health issues are not typically addressed during treatment.

Too often, our behavioral health system perpetuates a “siloed” model of clinical practice and research. Professionals have the luxury of focusing on a single isolated area of functioning – such as substance use, sex addiction, mental health or smoking.

People in recovery, however, struggle with these complex issues simultaneously, and the problems interact dynamically. Each problem influences the course and outcome of recovery from the other problems. Thus, it’s imperative that treatment and recovery support services, as well as research, adopt an integrated, holistic approach to examining and promoting recovery, including continuing support.

Alexandre Laudet, Ph.D., is Director of the Center for the Study of Addictions and Recovery at the National Development and Research Institutes, Inc. You can follow her on Twitter as @AlexandreLaudet

 Article citation: Laudet, A., Harris, K., Kimball, T., Winters, K. & Moberg, D. P. (in Press) Characteristics of students participating in Collegiate Recovery Programs: A national survey. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. Abstract